Senate Staff Gets Guidance (for Now) on Obamacare Exchanges

Posted October 15, 2013 at 6:26pm

Senate staffers were notified by the Disbursing Office on Tuesday that they will need to enter the D.C. health care exchange, regardless of their state of residency, and will lose their employer contribution if they do not enter the D.C. exchange, according to a memo obtained by CQ Roll Call.

Some Washington, D.C.-based congressional staff retain their in-state residency (oftentimes to pay the lower tax rate in their home state) and all members have district staff outside Washington. The open enrollment in the D.C. exchange for most staffers who are losing their Federal Employee Health Benefits plans will be Nov. 11 to Dec. 9. There previously had been some confusion over which state exchanges staffers would enter and frustration that the smaller-than-most-states D.C. would have an exchange with fewer coverage options, even as it offers national plans.

“If you are currently enrolled in traditional FEHB and it is determined you are now eligible for DC Health Link, your traditional FEHB coverage will be terminated on December 31, 2013. The coverage you elect via DC Health Link, during the Federal Benefits Open Enrollment period, will begin on January 1, 2014. Once again, if you do not elect via DC health link, you will not have Senate employer-sponsored coverage in 2014,” the memo read.

The memo also states that staffers’ share of health care premiums would be withheld from their pay on a pretax basis and that qualifying staffers will have the ability to continue FEHB coverage into federal retirement (which also had been a concern for longtime Hill staffers).

Leadership staffs and committee staffs are still exempt from the exchanges, as was written into the law (by leadership and committee staffs). It is up to each office, per the Office of Personnel and Management rule stated in the memo, to determine who is qualified for this exemption.

Of course, the memo also warns its recipients that they “should remain attentive to further communications about the implementation of this ACA provision and not rely on this notice alone,” as there currently is a push in Congress, led by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and again embraced Tuesday by House Republicans, to eliminate the employer contribution for Hill staff.

Read the full memo here.