The drop-dead date for members of Congress and their aides to enroll in Obamacare is fast approaching, which is great news because the deadline is propelling a severe, airborne whining contagion through the U.S. Capitol.
If you're a regular reader of this space, you're already well acquainted with House Speaker John Boehner's bellyaching. At his regular Capitol briefing Thursday, he complained about his enrollment experience publicly for the first time, telling reporters he actually considered skipping the exchanges, paying a penalty and holding out for Medicare when he turns 65 next year. The buggy D.C. exchange website and premium increase were so frustrating that he almost decided to go without insurance. It turns out one of the few things Republicans like less than Obamacare is being uninsured themselves.
Anyhow, last week the whining reached pandemic proportions. The symptoms of this bug include tweeting about website glitches, complaining about prices without actually disclosing prior premiums, and — oh, right — being a Republican.
"I want to talk about my personal experience with the D.C. exchange," groused Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, on the House floor Friday. "The president said you can keep your health care plan. That your premiums will go down. Mr. Speaker, I lost my health care plan. I have five kids. My premiums have gone up significantly. And I don't know if I can keep all the same doctors that I have to treat my kids."
Let's start with McCaul's initial complaint: that he can't keep his existing coverage. Like millions of other Americans, his plan is being canceled because of Obamacare. But unlike every other person in the country who's received a cancelation letter, McCaul and other members and aides are receiving them because of a GOP-authored amendment to the health care law prohibiting them from remaining in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program. He should take this up with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
I don't know how much McCaul paid for his old FEHB plan. But I do know that the D.C. market generally offers pretty decent deals, even for 51-year-olds like McCaul. As a general rule, young aides will have a better experience than old members because on the D.C. exchange they will be subject to a 3:1 age band — insurers can charge older beneficiaries up to three times as much as younger beneficiaries for the same plan. FEHBP isn't age rated at all. Everyone pays the same premiums for the same plan no matter how old or young. So Obamacare's a better deal for McCaul's staff, who will no longer be over-subsidizing their boss, than it is for McCaul himself.
The fact that McCaul is the second richest member of Congress, worth over $100 million, should help him finance the difference.
Most Hill operatives probably aren't as rich as McCaul, but they're coming down with the bug too.
Amanda Carpenter — Ted Cruz' speechwriter and senior communications adviser — has been tweeting about her woes, including website problems and supposedly higher premiums, for days.
At the start of her adventure she claimed she was enduring Obamacare "as required by law."
I remarked in response that nobody on the Hill is actually required to enroll in Obamacare. Some staffers will end up on their spouses' plans. Aides and members over 65 can enroll in Medicare. People can buy ACA compliant insurance outside of the exchanges. Some younger staffers might even be able to stay on their parents' plans. And the rest can skip insurance altogether and pay the penalty. It turns out it's not the law that's forcing Carpenter to suffer through this traumatic experience — it's her fear of being uninsured.
My friend and occasional Twitter sparring partner, J.P. Freire, who works for Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan, likewise does not intend to remain uninsured. But he wants to be sure you know how glitchy the D.C. exchange website has been.
(He's much less loquacious about the actual insurance products available to him.)
The same contagion has infected at least one former member of Congress, too. Fifty-one year-old Chris Chocola, who used to represent Indiana's second congressional district, just received a cancelation notice from his carrier. He was insured on the individual market despite being the president of the conservative advocacy shop Club for Growth, which provides insurance to other employees.
The Daily Caller passed along the press release version of Chocola's sob story. He's mad as hell. His insurance company wants to place him and his wife in a more expensive plan. He can't find a plan on the Blue Cross website that has the same deductible. But hey, "he’s at least glad he can look for a plan on his insurance company’s website and will not have to visit HealthCare.Gov."
It turns out the Daily Caller allowed Chocola to whine about his cancelation without a). disclosing his current premium, b). comparing his current plan to similar options on Healthcare.gov, or c). questioning his economically irrational decision not to shop around for cheaper coverage.
The Caller also didn't report (or perhaps didn't ask) whether Chocola's current $3,000 deductible is total or per person. But just to cover both bases, he should know that on Healthcare.gov, in his home of Elkhart County, Ind, he can buy a bronze-plated Marquee plan with a $3,000 per-person annual deductible for $794 a month, and a silver-plated Ambetter plan with a $3000 family deductible for $1,130 a month.
I don't know if that's somewhat more or somewhat less than Chocola's paying right now. The Daily Caller didn't bother to interrogate that issue for us and a Club for Growth spokesman did not respond to an email I sent Friday evening asking for more details. But I do know that in 2006, his last year in Congress, his net worth was between $10 and $38 million.