The Buzz

The facts, faces and hum of local politics with Steve Kraske and Dave Helling

Congress nearing new debate on Obamacare

04/29/2013 10:00 AM

05/20/2014 10:43 AM

When Congress returns from its spring break, look for a massive fight over whether members and their employees should be removed from the health exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Politico broke the story last week

. Negotiations are underway, the website said, to remove congressional staffers from the ACA’s exchanges because of fears their employer — the federal government — won’t be able to continue subsidizing insurance once employees go on the exchange.

If that turns out to be the case, staffers would lose thousands of dollars in health benefits they now get. For most, that would be a devastating reduction in income.

There’s an easy fix, though. And it’s a fix that tells us something important about Obamacare.

The government could simply stop offering congressional employees health insurance, pointing them to the exchange instead. In fact, the exchanges were set up to provide health coverage for those who lack it at work.

But — and this is the key point — Congress would have to “gross up” each employees’ pay to cover the additional costs of buying insurance in the exchange.

If this sounds familiar, it should.

Republicans have argued for years for a plan replacing Obamacare with a tax credit that everyone could use to buy insurance. The tax credit would be lower than the cost of buying insurance, but the idea is for private businesses to “gross up” employees to cover the additional costs.

That only works, though, if employers do “gross up” their workers.

We’ll see if Congress, one of the biggest employers of all, takes the lead on that idea.


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