Ask the Advisor: August 2013

Ask the Advisor: August 2013

Are Members of Congress Giving Up Their Health Insurance for Obamacare?

Q: My husband and I are not yet 65 or enrolled in Medicare. We are still working – primarily so we can get health insurance coverage through our employers. We're worried about the effect of "Obamacare" on our insurance premiums and whether our employers will drop coverage. Will Members of Congress give up their taxpayer-funded healthcare benefits? I think they should be required to get Obamacare benefits like the rest of us!

A: Surprise! The new healthcare law requires just that. A provision, added by Senator Charles Grassley (IA), requires Members of Congress and their staff to get their health insurance through new health insurance exchanges starting in 2014. The provision is stirring up lawmaker worry on Capitol Hill over whether the federal government will continue to pay part of their premiums, or leave them to cover 100% of the cost. Through the end of 2013, Members of Congress get their insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). Under FEHBP the government's share of premiums is about 75% of premium costs.

This may not be true once Members of Congress start purchasing insurance though the exchanges in 2014. In 2014 the exchanges will offer health insurance to individuals who don't get coverage through their employers, and, to small businesses. Large employers aren't scheduled to offer insurance to their employees through the exchanges until 2017, so it remains uncertain whether the exchanges would be ready to accept federal government's contributions towards premiums next year.

As to the details of how healthcare reform will affect you and your husband, stay tuned. Government officials and community organizations are gearing up for consumer information and assistance efforts that will surround this fall's open enrollment period starting in October. A major poll conducted earlier this year indicates that much of the public remains confused about the status of the health law. Check coming issues of The Social Security and Medicare Advisor for how the new healthcare law will affect seniors younger than Medicare age.

To learn more about the new health insurance marketplace, there's a new government website

Source: "Health Insurance Anxiety on Capitol Hill," Emily Etheridge, CQ Roll Call, April 25, 2013.