The Buzz

Is Congress again ignoring an easy solution?

Updated: 2013-07-30T15:12:48Z

By DAVE HELLING

The New York Times is the latest news outlet to report on the problem for thousands of congressional staff members and their elected bosses — Obamacare.

Under the Affordable Care Act, they all must purchase health their insurance from the exchanges that the government and some states are setting up. It’s actually a pretty good idea — it helps members of Congress understand what it’s like for people who can’t get health coverage.

But the exchanges are to be used only by people who can’t get coverage at work. That means there’s no mechanism for the government to pay its share of the workers’ premiums for insurance bought through the exchange.

And that means staff members face paying both their own share of the premium and their employer’s. They don’t like it. They aren’t paid very well.

Of course, there’s an easy solution.

Members of Congress could simply “gross up” workers to cover the added cost of the premium.

It would cost a little extra money. Because health care benefits are not taxable to the employee, a full “gross up” would have to take tax implications into account.

At the same time, though, the employer — the federal government — would no longer be on the hook for its share of the health insurance premium. So the overall cost to gross up employees would not be exorbitant.

Members are reluctant to gross up their workers because their office budgets would show the increase, and they wouldn’t be able to send out press releases every year about “saving taxpayer money.”

Eventually, the U.S. will move away from an employer-based health insurance system. Congress could lead the way.

Don’t hold your breath.

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