DAY OF RECKONING: Congressional staff enter Obamacare exchanges

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans have sparred for the past few months over what should be done about staffers’ healthcare: should they go on the healthcare exchanges, as a provision in Obamacare seems to require, or should they stay on the healthcare plan they have now, where they receive an employer subsidy help defray the costs?

The deadline for members to make that decision arrived at 5 p.m. on Halloween. Members could either designate staff as “official,” in which case they would be required to go on the exchanges, or “unofficial,” in which case they could remain on the Federal Employee Healthcare Benefits Program.

A number of Republicans have all opted to put all of their staffers, committee staff and personal staff, on the exchanges. Kentucky Sen. John Barrasso told The Daily Caller on Tuesday that his whole staff was going on the exchanges. South Dakota Sen. John Thune, will do the same, his communications director AshLee Strong told The Daily Caller, putting “personal office aides, his leadership aides, and his Commerce Committee aides” all on the exchanges. Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Politico they would do the same thing.

Florida Rep. Trey Radel will also put all of his staff on the exchanges, his communications director Amanda Nunes told TheDC.

On the Democratic side, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy has designated his full staff as “official,” his communications director Ben Marter told TheDC, so they will all be on the exchanges as well.

Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter is also putting all of his staff on the exchanges. Vitter, who fought virulently to put all staff on the exchanges, introduced legislation Thursday requiring members to publicize which staffers they opted to keep on the current federal employee healthcare plan, and which staffers were going on the exchanges.

“For members to use this illegal loophole so that some staff stay off the exchanges altogether is outrageous,” Vitter said in a statement. “It flies in the face of the exact language of Obamacare. If these staffers aren’t ‘official,’ then the taxpayer shouldn’t pay for their salaries or office support or anything else.”

That condemnation comes down on his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman said he would declare his entire staff “unofficial” to keep them all off of the exchanges, claiming that enrolling in the exchanges means subsidizing abortion.

“Everyone in our office voted to reject enrollment. We will not use taxpayer money to bail out a program that subsidizes abortion,” Stockman said in a statement.

Delaware Democrat Sen. Carper, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, will keep his committee staff on their federal employee healthcare plan, while his office staff in both DC and Delaware will go into the exchanges, his communications director Emily Spain told TheDC.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn indicated on Tuesday that he would do the same, keeping committee staff on the federal employee healthcare plan, while putting his personal and office staff on the exchanges.

“My staff are my staff. My staff on committee are committee. I’m not playing any games with it,” he told reporters, saying he felt the guidance was “clear.”

He added that for staff that went onto the exchanges, he had “enough money in my budget to buy them insurance — by giving them enough increase they can buy insurance wherever they want,” though he had not committed yet to doing so.

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Alexis Levinson