Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Members of Congress would get their health coverage through exchanges

Throughout this entire health reform debate, the comment I’ve heard most often from friends and family who aren’t following the day-to-day discussion is: “why can’t average Americans get the same kind of health insurance as members of Congress?” This hope is one step closer to reality, thanks to a recent Senate Finance Committee amendment.

Last week, members of the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved an amendment introduced by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) that would require members of Congress and their staffers to purchase their own health coverage through a state-based health insurance exchange (which would be created by the pending SFC version of health reform), rather than using the traditional Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP).

This is actually a watered-down version of Grassley’s original amendment that would’ve required all federal employees to participate in the exchange, effectively ending the FEHBP, according to the Washington Post. Currently all employees of the federal executive, judicial and legislative branches and the Postal Service, whether full or part-time, are eligible to enroll in the FEHBP.

Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? Noting that “Congress should live under the same laws it passes for the rest of the country,” Grassley suggested that the “more that Congress experiences the laws we pass, the better the laws are likely to be.”

Actually, the exchanges that would be established by the pending SFC bill text are modeled after the FEHBP and would give participants the same kind of choices and options for health care coverage as federal employees. Note, too, that, like other health plans, the FEHBP would be affected by health reform changes, just as any large employer would be. Uncle Sam would be “on the hook” for any mandates or excise taxes, for example. Meeting the rules for the exchange should presumably be easier for the federal government to do, since the plans in the exchange are based on what the FEHBP already has.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go in the process but it’ll be interesting to see whether this proposal survives intact and makes it into final health reform legislation. In the meantime, we can all ponder what impact, if any, this provision would have on the medical perks members of Congress get at the Office of the Attending Physician. That's something I think we'd all love to have.


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