Republicans Introduce Bills to Close Loophole on Staff Health Coverage

Posted March 25, 2010 at 5:17pm

Senate and House Republicans are introducing bills to close a loophole in the health care reform act that may exempt leadership and committee staffers from having to buy health plans created in the act.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) announced Thursday in a “Dear Colleague” letter that he would be introducing bicameral legislation with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who tried to attach a similar amendment to the reform act and the reconciliation bill.

The legislation would require all Congressional staffers — and top White House officials — to buy their health plans through state-run exchanges created in the act. Currently, the reform act could be interpreted to only require Members and the staffers in their personal offices to enter the exchange, according to a Congressional Research Service memo.

“Many of my colleagues and I believe that the expansion of government control over health care was the wrong approach to take,” Burgess, who is an obstetrician, writes in the letter. “Regardless, if Congress has decided it is the right thing for our constituents, then all Members and staff, as well as the President, Vice President, and political appointees, should be mandated to be covered by plans operating in an exchange.”

Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) — along with 17 Republican co-sponsors — also introduced a bill Thursday to close the loophole. But while Burgess’ bill would only apply to Congressional staff, Posey suggests requiring all legislative branch employees to enter the new state-run exchanges. That would include employees of legislative branch agencies such as the Architect of the Capitol and the Government Accountability Office.

“It appears as though some of the folks who participated in drafting the health care takeover, including White House staff and the Democrat leadership staff, exempted themselves from it,” Posey said in a statement. “This bill would simply move everyone that works for Congress into the new government run health care exchanges. Shouldn’t all of Congress be under the same mandate that they are imposing on the rest of the country?”

The language in the reform act that creates the loophole was originally written by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). But spokesmen for Coburn and Grassley say that the Senators soon realized that Coburn’s language unintentionally exempted leadership and committee staffers from the bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), they claim, refused to fix it or recognize a Grassley amendment offered when the act hit the Senate floor.

Democrats, meanwhile, say that Grassley’s amendment was too broad, and one leadership aide said that efforts by Democratic leaders to fix the Coburn language were thwarted by Republican “obstruction.”