Senior Hill Staffers Exempted from Obamacare

Published May 31, 2016

The abbreviated review process on the health care legislation recently signed by President Obama has already resulted in some surprises for congressmen who approved the bill—including some affecting their staffs.

Page 158 of the approved legislation contains a carveout for senior staff members in Capitol Hill leadership offices and on congressional committees, essentially exempting those senior staffers who wrote the bill from being forced to purchase health care plans in the same way as other Americans.

Grassley Attempted Removal

According to staffers for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), a major question during the course of the health care debate was whether members of Congress would commit to placing themselves in the same health care exchanges as average citizens, or whether they would hang on to their government plans.

The relevant text inserted in the final bill contains the following pasasge: “the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are (I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act or an amendment made by this Act.”

Although the language may seem to demand congressional staff participate in the exchanges, the definitions that follow carve out exemptions. According to the bill, “The term `congressional staff’ means all full-time and part-time employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, DC or outside of Washington, DC” (emphasis added).

The Congressional Research Service confirmed to Health Care News that this definition of “staff” will apply only to those persons employed within a member’s “personal office”— it will not apply to committee staff members and may not apply to leadership staff depending on the budget from which they are compensated.

Senior Staff Retain Freedom

The personal office staff for a member of Congress is governed by different rules than for those working on committees and in the leadership offices. Accordingly, staffers not paid through personal offices—such as those working for and paid under the committee structure under Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), or those working on leadership staff under Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—would be exempt from these requirements.

“We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy,” Pelosi said in March 9 remarks. In future months, Health Care News will be poring over the legislation to find legislative issues like this one.

Benjamin Domenech ([email protected]) is Managing Editor of Health Care News.