By Christine Harbin Hanson
Remember President Obama’s “If you like your health plan, you can keep it” motto from 2009? In hindsight, “If you like your health plan, and if you have enough political connections to get a waiver, you can keep it” would have been more accurate. In the three years since the President signed the health care bill into law, the White House has issued hundreds of waivers to the politically-connected, leaving ordinary Americans behind to comply with the law. As a going-away gift before they left Washington for August recess, President Obama exempted the best-connected group of all: members of Congress and Capitol Hill staffers.
In an effort to expose members of Congress and their staff to the experience they are putting another Americans through, section 1312(d)(3)(D) of the health care law instructs that members and staff will receive health insurance plans that are “created under this Act … or offered through an Exchange established under this Act.” That’s it, that’s all it says. This provision has raised myriad questions. Who does this cover? Can the federal government continue to support its employees’ health insurance costs? Where will this money come from? What exchange will these people enroll in? The list goes on and on.
With the deadline quickly approaching, many on Capitol Hill worried—just like the millions of Americans they represent—that their health costs would go up and they would lose their employer-sponsored health insurance plan. That prompted President Obama to direct the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the White House’s human resources department, to excuse members of Congress and their staff from the impact of the provision.
This waiver has a number of concerning policy implications.
Administrative Flaws in the Health Care Law: Exempting Congress is the latest in a long line of administrative flaws and fixes to ObamaCare. Congress and the White House have delayed or discarded many other faulty parts of the law since it was enacted in 2010. Just last week, for instance, President Obama called for delaying the employer mandate for a year, in order to give businesses more time to figure out how to comply with the complicated paperwork and regulations. Clearly, ObamaCare was not ready for prime time when Congress passed it and the President signed it into law. Three years later, with implementation deadlines fast approaching, Washington is still hammering out the details.
More Overreach from Federal Agencies: The White House’s human resources department, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), does not in fact have the authority to carry out the waiver. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board points out, “OPM has no authority to pay for insurance plans that lack FEHBP [Federal Employees Health Benefits Program] contracts, nor does the Affordable Care Act permit either exchange contributions or a unilateral bump in congressional pay in return for less overall compensation.” This overreach is just another example of this administration doing whatever it wants, regardless of whether they have any authority to do so.
Capitol Hill’s Double Standard: When the crystal ball drops this New Year’s Eve, members of Congress can sing “Auld Lang Syne” with the peace of mind that they have special protection that the rest of America doesn’t get. Too bad millions of Americans will not have this luxury. Beginning on January 1, most Americans will have to have the government-approved health insurance or pay a fine. Congress is supposed to live under the laws that it passes, but when it comes to ObamaCare, it’s “Good for thee, but not for me.” Again, from the WSJ editorial: “The real class divide in President Obama’s America is between the political class and everyone else.”
Check out previous posts in the “Welcome to ObamaCare” series by clicking below.