Health Care Reform: So Great That Some People Get To Be Exempt From It

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 24, 2010

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Our very own Ben Domenech wrote about this matter a couple of days ago, and followed it up as well, but it is worth emphasizing that the supposedly wonderful health care bill that has just been passed and signed into law has some pretty serious inequities contained within it. And gee, wouldn’t it have been nice if the media highlighted stories like before the vote in the House this past Sunday?

The health care reform bill signed into law by President Barack Obama Tuesday requires members of Congress and their office staffs to buy insurance through the state-run exchanges it creates – but it may exempt staffers who work for congressional committees or for party leaders in the House and Senate.

Staffers and members on both sides of the aisle call it an “inequity” and an “outrage” – a loophole that exempts the staffers most involved in writing and passing the bill from one of its key requirements.

The bill requires “congressional staff” to buy insurance from the exchanges – with a stipend from the Office of Personnel Management But page 158 of the bill defines “congressional staff” narrowly, as “employees employed by the official office of a member of congress, whether in the district office or in Washington.”

The Congressional Research Service believes a court could rule that the legislation “would exclude professional committee staff, joint committee staff, some shared staff, as well as potentially those staff employed by leadership offices.”

If that’s so, staffers who work for Nancy Pelosi in her capacity as representative from California would go into the exchange program, while staffers who work for her in her capacity as speaker would stay on the government’s plan. Other Capitol employees, like those who work for the Clerk of the House or the House Historian, would be similarly exempted.

If the health care bill is so wonderful, why do certain staff members get to be exempted? Are they not liked, and therefore prevented from sharing in the benefits of a wonderful health care bill? Or are they liked plenty, and spared being affected by the health care legislation we have been told we all ought to celebrate?

Senator Charles Grassley offered an amendment to ensure that all staffers, the President, the Vice President, and all Cabinet members must be covered by the health care legislation. This amendment ought to pass, and ought to be attached to the reconciliation legislation, but Democrats will fight it since they don’t want to have the legislation go back to the House. Heaven forfend, of course, that the reconciliation bill be improved, since improving the bill would obviously upset Democratic sensibilities, and cause changes in their timeline that they disapprove of.

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