The current effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act may be threatened by a small but politically poisonous provision of the proposed legislation.
While one of the centerpieces of the repeal bill is to allow states to opt out of certain Obamacare regulations, including rules that bar insurers from charging more to customers with pre-existing medical conditions, the bill also specifically ensures those protections will remain in place for members of Congress and their staffs, all of whom purchase their health insurance through the ACA marketplace.
The exemption was spotted by Vox, the liberal news analysis site, and confirmed by Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who crafted the amendment allowing states to opt out of such rules.
What this means is that even Congressional aides who live in states that do opt out of the ACA rules could not be charged higher premiums based on their health.
Republicans in favor of allowing states to opt out of otherwise popular provisions of the ACA argue that mandating such protections drives up the cost of insurance for the entire population. They would like to see states set up high-risk insurance pools for those whose health conditions prevent them from obtaining affordable insurance in the regular market.
In response to questions from The Hill, a spokesperson for MacArthur seemed to suggest the provision would be changed.
However, Democrats will undoubtedly cast the exemption for Congressional staff as evidence that Republicans don’t actually believe that the provisions they are imposing on the broader public will lower the cost of coverage.
"The best evidence yet that the new GOP repeal plan is a disaster for people’s health care is that the GOP exempted members of Congress from living under it,” Leslie Dach, director of the Protect Our Care Campaign, tells The Hill.
A headline on ThinkProgress, the website for the liberal Center for American Progress, announced that “Trumpcare is so awful that House Republicans are building an escape hatch for themselves.”
In past years it was Republicans who accused Democrats of shielding politicians and their aides from harmful federal health policy. In particular, they seized on subsidies that helped Congressional aides pay for the health plans they purchased through the ACA exchange.
However, the Obama administration, as well as nonpartisan political fact-checkers, noted that the subsidy was merely maintaining the previous deal Congressional employees had, in which their employer, the federal government, picked up a substantial share of their premiums, as do most private employers.