Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How would you like it if Congress took away your health benefit?

Imagine that you're a white collar employee.  You went to college, got good grades, applied to competitive internships.  You snagged a much sought-after position in a competitive field, go to work every day, go "above and beyond" at your job to make sure that the enormous workload of a confusing and arcane subject matter gets handled responsibly -- people's lives could be on the line -- and you go home exhausted and drained at the end of the day.  You make a decent wage but one of the real perks of the job is the benefits - your employer kicks in a tidy 75% of your health insurance premium.

Now imagine that the US Congress took that away.  Imagine how upset you'd be, how betrayed you'd feel.  Now stop imagining because Congress did that as part of the PPACA -- the so-called "Obamacare" law.

Outrageous, right?  We should repeal that part immediately, right?  Surely the Republicans on the Hill have your back on this one!

Not so fast.  The employer we were talking about a few paragraphs ago?  That was Congress and those employees are the army of clerks, staffers, and political professionals that make the legislative business of the nation possible.

See, back in the 1960s when the US health insurance system was just taking form, the US Congress put into place the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program which functioned rather a lot like the health insurance exchanges under Obamacare.  The employer (the specific department for which a given employee works) pays "an amount up to 72 percent of the average plan premium for self-only or family coverage (not to exceed 75 percent of the premium for the selected plan)" with the employee picking up the remainder of the cost.

Or that's how it worked until Obamacare passed.  The employer contribution to the insurance premium is spelled out in the legislation establishing the program itself so when Congress was removed from the FEHBP (in order to quiet Republican cries that Democrats in Congress weren't willing to stomach the system they were "forcing" on the American people) the employer contribution was left behind too.

This is widely regarded as a "glitch" in the law; the purpose of compelling Congress to use the exchanges was to ensure that the exchanges were "good enough for the people writing the law," not to quadruple the cost of health insurance to Congressional staffers.

Yet, with the transition from the FEHBP to the Obamacare Exchanges looming, Republicans now see the putting the screws to a cadre of idealistic staffers as a way  to gain political advantage. The Wall Street Journal went so far as to conflate the earned compensation of the full-time employees of the US government with the health insurance subsidies Obamacare allots for those living below 400% of the poverty line, as if merely drawing a paycheck from the US government is somehow the economic equivalent of subsisting on welfare and government handouts.

At least the staffers and clerks who's compensation Congress is protecting have been hard at work and productive in whatever capacity their office allows them.  The Republican House of Representatives, on the other hand, just completed it's 40th entirely symbolic and wholly ineffectual vote to overturn Obamacare.

It's good to know that our tax dollars are being put to such good use.

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