Fact Check: Did President Obama exempt members of Congress from Obamacare?
October 9th, 2013
10:42 AM ET
7 years ago

Fact Check: Did President Obama exempt members of Congress from Obamacare?

President Obama exempted members of Congress from Obamacare.

“President Obama recently issued a special rule for Congress and congressional staff to get a special subsidy to purchase health insurance on the Obamacare Exchange unavailable to every other American at similar income levels,” said Republican Sen. David Vitter. “That’s an exemption, plain and simple.”

We think this matter is “in dispute.”

Fact: When Obamacare was passed into law, Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, attached language – later revised by Majority Leader Harry Reid - to the bill mandating that members of Congress and their staffers would have to buy health insurance on the newly created health insurance exchanges. What nobody accounted for at the time was that members of Congress and their staffers currently have health insurance through their employer – the federal government through a program called the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP). No other business has been legally required to drop health insurance for its employees.

Like most large employers, the federal government contributes a portion to the premiums of its employees. In fact, like many employers, the federal government pays most of the premiums for its workers; an average of 72 percent on Capitol Hill. The new provision didn’t account for the continued employer contribution for these federal workers who would now be buying their insurance on the exchanges. The exchanges were designed to help people without health insurance and people with overly expensive health insurance. It became clear that without their employer contribution, members and their staffers would essentially be getting a cut in pay and benefits equal to thousands of dollars. Even Grassley, the provision’s author, had tried to amend to law in order to allow the government to continue to contribute to lawmakers’ and staffers’ premiums. What the Obama administration has done is rule that the lawmakers and their staffs will continue to receive the employer contribution to help them buy their insurance on the exchange.

Originally we declared Vitter’s assertion to be wrong since any company can decide to help pay for policies that its workers purchase on the exchange so allowing representatives and staff to do so would not be an “exemption.” That notion has been challenged by conservative critics of Obamacare who argue that under existing federal statutes Congress had to specifically pass legislation authorizing the premium subsidies for any insurance program other than FEHBP. Since congress did not do this, the administration, at the behest of Congressional Democrats, and, according to Politico, Speaker John Boehner, unilaterally extended premium contributions. By doing this, the critics argue, the administration “exempted” Congress from the law.

The administration takes issue with this, asserting that another provision in existing federal law gives the Office of Personnel Management the power to contribute to health insurance for federal “employees” and the ACA did not remove lawmakers and Congressional staff from the statutory definition of federal “employee.”

This sounds like something the courts will have to sort out. So, rather than declaring Vitter’s assertion to be false, prudence suggests that we label it, “in dispute.”

Filed under: Congress • Fact Check Obamacare
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Data Driven

    How does extending premium contributions "exempt" Congresscritters, or anyone else, from Obamacare? By that logic, I'm also "exempt" because my workplace does the same thing. Of course, I could drop my employer coverage during the open enrollment period and sign up on the Marketplace exchange, if I wished.

    Nice try, CNN. Employers extending premium contributions are not "exemptions". Congratulations - outside of Wingnuttia, you're the only organization to fall for this absurdity.

    October 9, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  2. Sniffit

    This is what's tangled:

    The ACA exempts members of Congress from itself. The Grassley poison pill amendment makes them the only people/employees in the country not entitled to health insurance from their large employer and ineligible for subsidies on the exchanges.

    The administrative ruling un-exempts them by making it so they are treated like everyone else in the country, i.e., their large employer is supposed to provide them with health insurance and they will be entitled to subsidies (if they qualify) if forced into the exchanges for any reason.

    "In fact, like many employers, the federal government pays most of the premiums for its workers; an average of 72 percent on Capitol Hill."

    And, before people try to run with that 72% figure, trying to claim it's inflated and better than in the 'free market":

    Averages in the private market are 82% employer contribution for individual plans and 71% employer contribution for family plans. Average private employer contributions went up 4% last year.

    October 9, 2013 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  3. tom l

    Here come the lions! The liberals aren't gonna like this. I want a quarter for every "false equivalence" comment!!

    October 9, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  4. kirk

    More Republican double talk, hypocritical at best, just can't get a simple truth out of the gop,truth, is definitely not kind to their claims .

    October 9, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  5. Julienne

    I'm just shocked that our Veterans were locked-out of the World-War II War Memorial...and 20,000 illegal Aliens were embraced by Nancy Pelosi, across the lawn.

    October 9, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  6. kirk

    Tom l, what do you think about McConnells new cause, eliminate all campaign funding regulations, you know the ones that were designed to fight corruption, should I insert a he's to busy doing his buddies bidding while the crisis is going on, you would never say anything like that would you? He is doing us all a service huh?

    October 9, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  7. Rick McDaniel

    The fact is.........Congress gets to keep it's "special" plan.........and is NOT required to have ObamaCare.

    They are far from the ONLY groups who have been extended "special" privileges in that regard. The "mandate" to BUY the insurance was always a FRAUD! The majority of the uninsured have actually been added to the Medicaid roles, which simply means, Obama is bankrupting Medicare, and seniors will be denied care, and will DIE, because of that.

    Obama is literally KILLING seniors, to pay for the poor.......and he is doing that to accomplish his goal of free health care for blacks,,,,,,,,,,a racist goal.

    October 9, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  8. Thomas

    I'm just shocked that our Veterans were locked-out of the World-War II War Memorial...and 20,000 illegal Aliens were embraced by Nancy Pelosi, across the lawn.


    Do you want a riot ?

    You don't know what shocked is lady !

    October 9, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  9. Sniffit

    "How does extending premium contributions "exempt" Congresscritters, or anyone else, from Obamacare? "

    The point is that the word "exempt" is an extremely bad choice of words.

    On the one hand, it is correct because the ACA exempts Congress from itself and the administrative ruling un-exempts them, i.e., the administrative ruling exempts them from the exemption. It's a double-negative sortof situation.

    On the other hand, the administrative ruling makes it so that congress and their staff/aides/employees are all treated just like everyone else in the country, so it isn't really an exemption in that sense, but rather making sure that everyone is treated the same.

    The problem is that when the GOP/Teatrolls blather about "exemption," they intend it to mean (and the MSM never corrects it) that "Obama is trying to help Congress get special treatment." THAT is blatant lie because the administrative ruling actually makes it so everyone is treated THE SAME.

    October 9, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  10. Wilson

    And there's the rub, obama does not screw everyone equally.

    October 9, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  11. Lori

    I I have to agree with Julenne- Our Veterans who fought for our country and freedom locked out? Nancy Pelosi is a joke! I would also be more supportive of Obamacare IF....... IF... all members of congress were expected to pay premiums just as our US citizens have to. Paying for the health care of our congress for life is ridiculous and does not treat the US citizens/taxpayers fairly. Go on anotherVACATION Obama and write it off that you are creating jobs for Americans and come up with more idiotic ideas.

    October 9, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  12. The Real Tom Paine

    tom I, what is it with you and this obcession with " false equivilence"? Can you never accept the fact that this is a classic case of carefully ommitting facts in your argument? Boehner is responsible for extending the contributions, so where is a possiblity of " false equivilence"?

    October 9, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  13. kirk

    And the cow jumped over the moon

    October 9, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  14. Mitch

    Another example of CNN bothsiderism. "in dispute"? Hah!

    October 9, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  15. Wake up People!

    If only Fox-lite would allow ME to say what I want to say like the Obama haters are allowed to.......

    October 9, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. Gurgyl

    Do not twist–it is NOT an exemption–it is a subsidy to pay on healthcare, that is they HAVE to pay. Period. Subsidy can expire at any time–not permanent.

    October 9, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  17. freedom

    Absolutely Obama exempt Congress AND the corporations who he promised goodies to when they helped him get elected. Obama demonized corporations and high income folks to get elected, and that's exactly who he's catering to now. And the worst part – is that Obamacare is going to put such a burden on the middle class (who he claims he champions) that our economy is going to continue to implode. He is not only a hypocrite, he's a liar, and he is dangerous.

    October 9, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  18. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Another example of CNN bothsiderism. "in dispute"? Hah!"

    I love it! Can I copy your bothsidersim in future comments? (When I am allowed to post, that is).

    October 9, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  19. Wake up People!

    If only more people actually understood what reading comprehension actually means.

    Congress is NOT exempt, their employer the Federal government, actually provides its employees with health care.

    Does ANYONE actually read anything anymore??

    October 9, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  20. Ol' Yeller

    Julienne and Lori, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but not all Hisponics are illegal aliens.
    I also hate to tell you, but the Vets were not 'locked out' of the WWII Memorial. Now the republicants certainly wanted you to think that had happened (hint: look at the photo ops with bachman and the other loons where they at the WWII Mem. with this group of vets) and that this was Obama's fault, but that is pure theater. The government (which includes memorials, national park, and the like) were closed because the House has failed to vote on a bill to fund the government. Pull your heads out ladies....

    October 9, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  21. tom l

    My obsession with "false equivalence" is twofold:
    1. It is a talking point. The difference is that when a person from the right brings up a point, it is unilaterally dismissed as a "talking point". No difference. Your side gets it's talking points from Krugman, the Daily Kos and the like. No difference from the right getting their "talking points" from their sources. It's just funny because all of the liberals here dismiss items as tlaking points when they use talking points, too.
    2. It's not a false equivalence no matter how many times you say it. It's. Just. Not. The president has negotiated when he have reached the debt ceiling on several occasions. You can be a blowhard about how "IT'S NEVER BEEN ABOUT THIS!". So what. Big deal. In 1977, the govt was shut down over abortion. Should people back then have said "THAT'S NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE TO SHUT THE GOVT DOWN BECAUSE OF ABORTION!" It's phony talking point argument. There has always been negotiations and that's a good thing. Both sides should have input.

    October 9, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  22. Sniffit

    The other part of the conservative brain damage here is that they are pretending that, unless someone is forced to purchase from the exchanges, they are not "subject to" or "having to live with" the ACA...treating it as if "Obamacare" is an actual product. In fact, everyone still receiving health insurance benefits via their employer is "subject to" and "living with" "Obamacare." They've invented a wrong-headed absurdity on which to base the entire complaint, then made a baseless, indefensible complaint that the administrative ruling somehow gives Congress special treatment because they "get to" continue receiving health insurance benefits from their employer and "get to" receive subsidies under the same conditions everyone else in the country does.

    October 9, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  23. rs

    YET another example of the GOP's "big lie" stance about pretty much anything. There IS NO "exemption". And these fools think anyone with a room-temperature IQ or higher should trust them? On anything?

    October 9, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  24. sonny chapman

    If Vitter said it, it's a lie.

    October 9, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  25. Pam from Iowa

    I am not required to participate in Obamacare either as I have insurance through my employer!
    I guess that makes me exempt too!

    and @Julienne – I am shocked as well that Speaker of the House Boehner would lock those veterans out from seeing the memorial!!!

    October 9, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
1 2