Sen. Johnson prepared to sue to make his staff pay more for health insurance

Senator Ron Johnson wants his staff, and the staffs of other members of Congress, to pay higher health insurance costs so badly that he’s prepared to sue the Office of Personnel Management.

Johnson gave an interview to Newsmax, a conservative online news magazine, Monday saying that he is preparing a lawsuit against the OPM for their decision to allow legislative staff members to receive subsidies to help pay for health insurance on the exchanges setup by the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Ron Johnson tells Newsmax he is prepared to sue the “lawless” Obama administration over its decision to grant members of Congress and their staff special treatment under Obamacare.

Johnson thinks “special treatment” in this case means employers help contribute to their employees health insurance costs.

During the recent government shutdown Republicans were pushing a popular talking point about how President Obama had exempted members of Congress and their staffs from the Affordable Care Act.

That meme has been seriously busted by nearly everyone with any rudimentary knowledge of how the law actually works. (For those who don’t like to click on links, those go to Billings Gazette, Mother Jones, Real Clear Politics, The New Republic, The Reno Gazette-Journal, The Daily Banter, Bloomberg, Yahoo Finance, The Brookings Institution, USA Today, Politifact, FactCheck, Media Matters, New York Magazine, Forbes, MSNBC, and US News and World Report.)

What happened was in 2010 while debate about the ACA before it was passed and signed into law, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced an amendment to the bill that would see members of Congress and their staff forced to purchase health insurance on the exchanges that would eventually be setup.

At the time this was seen as somewhat of a poison pill that might see Democrats balk at voting for, which would allow Republicans another tool at their disposal in opposing the bill. However, Democrats called that bluff and voted for it anyway.

Because the exchanges weren’t necessarily designed to provide health insurance to people who already had access to qualifying health insurance plans through their employers, congressional staffers were at risk of not qualifying for subsidies and being forced to pay 100 percent of the cost of the plans they chose. This would in effect be a huge pay cut.

Which leads us to the ruling by OPM that has Johnson prepared to sue over.

In August, the OPM issued a ruling that staffers would still receive the employer contribution towards their health insurance plans as if they were still eligible for the Federal Health Benefits Employee Program. That means staffers would still see the government chip in about 75 percent of the cost of their health insurance as most employers in the private sector who currently provide insurance to their employees do.

Even Grassley himself said his amendment was not intended to make staffers pay the full cost of their health insurance plans. From Roll Call:

Grassley has said repeatedly that the OPM rule was in line with the original intent of the amendment, despite the amendment not being his.

“My goal, regardless of how the amendment was worded … was that we [in Congress] need to go into the exchange so that we would have to go through the same red tape as every other citizen.”

Congressional staffers are not “exempted” from the ACA as Republicans like Johnson have claimed. In actuality, members of Congress and their staffs would be the only employees with employer provided health insurance forced by law onto the health care exchanges. What Johnson wants to do is merely force his staffers to take a huge pay cut.



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