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Obama Solves Health Care Problem for Lawmakers, Staff (Updated)

Updated: 2:17 p.m. Aug. 2 | Just a day after President Barack Obama told Senate Democrats he had personally engaged in the issue of his signature health care law’s effect on lawmakers and their staff, it appears there’s a solution.

Word began circulating around Capitol Hill that the Office of Personnel Management would soon issue guidance to address the way the health care law’s exchanges affect members of Congress and those employed in their offices. Senate aides initially declined to discuss the matter, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed the existence of a deal to CQ Roll Call leaving the Capitol late Thursday — and a White House official confirmed details of the plan later Thursday evening.

Basically, OPM needed to determine that the federal government could help pay the cost of premiums on the exchanges for congressional employees.

“I’m glad it’s done,” the Nevada Democrat said, directing a request for details to the White House.

A White House official confirmed to CQ Roll Call that OPM will issue the new regulation next week, and in turn lawmakers and aides will not be eligible for the law’s tax credits and subsidies to buy insurance. Members of both parties had asked the administration to step in and clarify that staff was still eligible for employer contributions, fearing an exodus of talent. And enacting a legislative fix would have been messy to say the least given the partisan divide over the law itself.

The provision in question was pushed by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa. His version of the amendment included language providing the employer contribution for members and staff in the exchanges. But the law itself makes no mention of the employer contribution — hence the mess.

During a meeting in the Capitol Wednesday with the Senate Democratic caucus, Obama said that he would personally step in to work on the issue before the health care law’s requirement that those on Capitol Hill get insurance through the exchanges. Obama’s comments were first reported by Politico and later confirmed by CQ Roll Call.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., released a statement Thursday night reiterating that staff and lawmakers must sign up for the exchanges.

“Members of Congress and their staffs must enroll in health marketplaces as the Affordable Care Act requires.

“As we continue our work to ensure the smooth implementation of this law and look forward to the start of enrollment on October 1st, we will continue our efforts this August to educate consumers on the law’s provisions and tout the critical benefits already in place for millions of Americans,” she said, with no mention of the deal that OPM is set to announce.

On Friday, some Republicans applauded the president’s decision, while others said it was more evidence the law should be repealed.

The decision is the latest made by the administration to try and smooth the implementation of the law.

Obama had earlier come under fire for his decision to not enforce the employer mandate for a year without passing a legislative fix.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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