Congress May Be Fined Under Own Health Law

Published May 31, 2016

Congress may be fined tens of millions of dollars a year under its own health-care law because the bill dumps members of Congress and their staffs from their current health-care plans.

Part of the reason may depend on the regulatory interpretations of the legislation, which includes several vague definitions. Exactly who qualifies as an “employer” — and therefore is subject to fines up to $3,000 per employee — is undefined in the bill.

If Congress were subject to a $3,000 fine for each of its employees, it would need to pay an annual fine of approximately $50 million. Congress’s research arm, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), confirmed the possibility to Republican aides for Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA).

“That’s the irony — here we may be the first major employer in the country to be fined for not providing proper health insurance for our employees,” Lungren said. “Isn’t that contrary to the very premise of the bill?”

Definitions Will Determine Fines

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be responsible for establishing most of the details of how the law is implemented. Many Republicans who have raised the issue believe Sebelius will exempt Congress with a regulation narrowly defining “employer.” Yet under that scenario, state and local governments will still be on the hook for the fines.

Before Congress incurs any fines, a Congressional employee would have to apply for government subsidies. Employers incur a $2,000 or $3,000 fine for each employee, depending on the circumstances, even if only one of their employees obtains the subsidy.

James Capretta, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, believes many employers will have to find ways around these fines.

“I think you’ll find that employees will do everything possible to get access to those subsidies,” Capretta said.

Unintended Consequences

This is just the latest incident where unclear language is resulting in unintended consequences. CRS explained in a previous memo that members of Congress and their staff won’t be able to keep their current health-care plans – in fact, because of unclear language in the bill, Congress should have been dumped from its current health-care coverage already.

Lungren attributed many of the “drafting errors” in the bill to the unorthodox process by which the law was passed.

“I doubt that when the senators voted on the bill they thought that was going to be the completed project. They needed to get their number of votes and they were going to do it whatever way they could,” Lungren said. “This is just terribly written legislation.”

Jonathan Strong ([email protected]) writes from Washington, D.C. This article is adapted from a piece in the Daily Caller ( and is reprinted with permission.