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Did Congress Screw Itself Out Of Healthcare?

Remember when Nancy Pelosi said Congress needed to pass healthcare so we could see what’s in it? Remember when she and her cohorts said we’d love it once we understood it better? She may yet change her tune. Robert Pear of the New York Times states…

…the new health care law will affect almost every American in some way. And, perhaps fittingly if unintentionally, no one may be more affected than members of Congress themselves.

The Congressional Research Service says “the law may have significant unintended consequences for the “personal health insurance coverage” of senators, representatives and their staff members.”

This is too good – “the law may “remove members of Congress and Congressional staff” from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available.”

The law apparently bars members of Congress from the federal employees health program, on the assumption that lawmakers should join many of their constituents in getting coverage through new state-based markets known as insurance exchanges.

But the research service found that this provision was written in an imprecise, confusing way, so it is not clear when it takes effect.

The new exchanges do not have to be in operation until 2014. But because of a possible “drafting error,” the report says, Congress did not specify an effective date for the section excluding lawmakers from the existing program.

Um, yeah. The exchanges don’t exist yet, but Congress is supposed to take part in them now? Well, Nancy and Harry – that’s what happens when you pass something you don’t read first!

Under well-established canons of statutory interpretation, the report said, “a law takes effect on the date of its enactment” unless Congress clearly specifies otherwise. And Congress did not specify any other effective date for this part of the health care law. The law was enacted when President Obama signed it three weeks ago.

Okay, Nancy. No more health care for you!!

But this is the quote of the day – if I could write these words in huge letters across the sky, I would:

The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?

Ding ding ding ding ding ding!! Congratulations, Ms. Nancy and Mr. Harry. You two get the booby prize.

“It is unclear whether members of Congress and Congressional staff who are currently participating in F.E.H.B.P. may be able to retain this coverage,” the research service said in an 8,100-word memorandum.

And even if current members of Congress can stay in the popular program for federal employees, that option will probably not be available to newly elected lawmakers, the report says.

[snip]

These seemingly technical questions will affect 535 members of Congress and thousands of Congressional employees. But the issue also has immense symbolic and political importance. Lawmakers of both parties have repeatedly said their goal is to provide all Americans with access to health insurance as good as what Congress has.

I wonder how fast they’ll move to fix that particular snag in the legislative mess they just rammed through Congress – for ego purposes only.

Moreover, it says, the strictures of the new law will apply to staff members who work in the personal office of a member of Congress. But they may or may not apply to people who work on the staff of Congressional committees and in “leadership offices” like those of the House speaker and the Democratic and Republican leaders and whips in the two chambers.

In addition, the report says, Congress did not designate anyone to resolve these “ambiguities” or to help arrange health insurance for members of Congress in the future.

Oops.

“This omission, whether intentional or inadvertent, raises questions regarding interpretation and implementation that cannot be definitively resolved by the Congressional Research Service,” the report says. “The statute does not appear to be self-executing, but rather seems to require an administrating or implementing authority that is not specifically provided for by the statutory text.”

The White House said last month that Mr. Obama would voluntarily participate in the health insurance exchange, though the law does not require him or other administration officials to do so. His participation as president may depend on his getting re-elected in 2012.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, said lawmakers were in the same boat as many Americans, trying to figure out what the new law meant for them.

“If members of Congress cannot explain how it’s going to work for them and their staff, how will they explain it to the rest of America?” Mr. Chaffetz asked in an interview.

The provision governing members of Congress can be traced to the Senate Finance Committee. When the panel was working on the legislation last September, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, proposed an amendment to require that elected federal officials and all federal employees buy coverage through an exchange, “rather than using the traditional Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.”

A scaled-back version of the amendment, applying to members of Congress and their aides, was accepted in the committee without objection.

Thank you, Senator Grassley – they didn’t even notice what you were doing – they were too busy beating the drum and beating all opposition to a pulp. Do you think the Senator did this deliberately – just to point out how poorly this legislation was being crafted?

And I thought the elites in Congress knew what was best for the rest of us.

The words just desserts come to mind. We’ll keep you posted on new developments.

  • ddjk154
  • creeper

    “And even if current members of Congress can stay in the popular program for federal employees, that option will probably not be available to newly elected lawmakers, the report says.”

    Good.  Let’s make that apply to all of them come November.

  • Senneth

    jbjd, thank you for all your hard work.

  • Buzzlatte

    Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

  • Buzzlatte

    Funny thing that, Jackie, since only democrats voted “FOR” the bill.  So who screwed it up?  Five seconds to answer.

  • EllenD

    Diana, I suspect you and your friend were both agreeing on this ghastly bill but coming at it from different angles. Both left and right hate it. No one likes it but the health insurance companies.
    You both were talking past each other, and many proud Americans are strugging with what looks like a massive botch by Congress. Some are trying to wrestle it into an achievement when they really know the truth.
    Go back and read the good things you said about your friend. And forget about what either of you both said in anger. Then mail her a funny card and get back together again.
    I hope Medicare is some help to her.

  • EllenD

    jbjd dead on as usual.
    I’m probably the only person here who has had health insurance in both Canada and the US and had companies in both countries, paying the employer share. It was affordable in Canada. It is unaffordable here and killing small business. We can’t give employees raises because the insurance companies keep raising their rates to grab any increase we might be able to squeeze out.
    This is a lousy bill. I call it Government Welfare for the Health Insurance Corporations and we are not going to come out of this recession with this millstone around our necks.
    Canada has a program of free Medical School to anyone who agrees to practice in underserved areas for a set length of time. jbjd is right. the U.S. did  not have to reinvent the wheel.
    I’m afraid the truth is that right now the large corporations in the U.S. own the government. We can’t get fiscal reform and regulation and break up our too big to fail banks and we can’t get decent affordable healthcare for everyone. It is very depressing.

  • candymarl

    I am heartbroken for Congress. Heartbroken I tell ya! :’(

  • Anon

    Who gives a flying @#$%!

  • jbjd

    PE, I am so glad to hear you were listening!  The podcasts to previous appearances are linked on my blog.  (As soon as I get the link to tonight’s show, I will post that, too.)

  • PortiaElizabeth

    I’m really glad I was able to catch you on Dr. Kate’s program tonight. It’s good to put a voice to the person. I’m even more impressed now with the amount of work you’ve done on this subject of election fraud. I hope Abbott does something. (Good catch on that earlier ruling!) I’m glad you explained more of why you go on politijab. I was wondering why you would intentionally set yourself up for the sharks you mentioned. You’re a braver woman than I am.
    Kudos to you, jbjd!

  • Patience

    Thanks Ani for giving this article the attention it deserves.  I always enjoy your comments too.

  • Cindy

    sows—that’s so funny!

  • sowsear

    I’m sure they will fix their problem right away….in the dead of night, probably.

  • Docelder

    He is the one. Plus, he is very historical.

  • ~~JustMe~~

    Karma is a Bitc*

  • ~~JustMe~~

    The most fun thing was not seeing you here all day!

  • Diana L. C.

    Ferd, thanks for this response.  You’ve summed it up completely.  All I was trying to tell her was that this bill is such an unknow because of the way it was passed.  She admitted that she didn’t really understand how it would affect her and when.  And that because of my love for my country, I had hoped for a bill that was done smarter and better in all regards to any other country’s plan.  She just accused me of turning into a “stupid Republican.”

    I just didn’t like at all the emphasis on insurance and none on costs, encouraging doctor training, nurse training.  No one spent any time at all looking into studies that might have been done already as to better ways to provide health care, etc.

    I was never close to layoff, as I always made it to tenure in a core subject.  As to the accident situation, I always felt that I had excellent car insurance, travel insurance, and we have workman’s compensation insurance.  I just never felt that I was in a situation in which I might endanger my family’s finances because I had been so careful about giving up many other things to make sure I had much coverage and savings.

    I would–though I know at this point it’s impossible–have had “public” health care.  My idea had always been to take the public schools idea and work it for health care somehow.  I didn’t want it to be addressed on the federal level but on the state and local level.  I wouldn’t have minded getting rid of insurance and accepting property tax-based formulas for health care.  It seems to me that something more on that line would be better. 

    So, no, I wasn’t opposed to providing health care for all—just not the way it was done.

  • sowsear

    Bo’s the one you can’t pick up by the clean end.

  • sowsear

    Sounds like “Dilbert”, to me

  • AC

    They go away for a while and we get some work done.
    **********************
    Imagine how much real work would get done if they went away permanently.

  • armymom

    Nope, they’re going to “fix” the loophole for congress. It was a mistake, which is what you get when you don’t read the damn thing, but I did hear a rep from California say they were going to fix it for them..

  • jbjd

    OMG, know what this reminds me of?  Here we have this health insurance debacle, in which Congresspeople ignored the will of the majority of their constituents by passing this bill, notwithstanding that even when questioned, these officials did not seem to know what was in it and that the Speaker of the House recommended passage to find out what it said.  And now these same officials are getting hit with the realization, this bill was bad for their constituents but it could even be WORSE FOR THEM!  And in Texas I pointed out, the evidence is clear, the R’s are just as culpable as the D’s for enabling the election fraud; and I found the seminal case from the Supreme Court of Texas (signed by Judge Abbott) which said where there is a duty to disclose, non-disclosure is tantamount to a lie, making the statement of TDP Chair Richie that BO is eligible, a lie.  And as if to prove my point, the AG of TX who refuses to investigate the citizen complaints of election fraud against Boyd Richie is none other than former Justice Greg Abbott (R)!  
     
    A pox on both their houses.

  • AnnieCarmel

    “Congress could still say, they purchased insurance from the exchange, just like ‘the people”

    That is exactly what our “Representative” Sam Farr said in a Letter to the Editor of the Monterey County Herald…their plan is  just like the one we’re getting.  I knew that was BS but how to dispute it?  Hahaha…from his lips to God’s ears!

  • Ani

    But it remains to be seen what they do with this little gem — will they use it to exempt themselves from the health plan they foist on us?  It is clear that this Congress does whatever it wants — I don;t think any of this will have any lasting effect on them whatsoever.  In the end, it is meaningless.  When it comes to protecting their own hides, they will do quite well, I assure you. 

    It is fascinating a) that the NY Times had to report this and b) that they had tp point out the cluelessness of these lazy people who could not be bothered to read what they passed.

    By the time 2014 rolls around, we will see what health care plan Congress uses for itself.  Please check back then.

  • Ani

    He was called out on the floor of Congress and so decided to cancel.  His bullying shows some kinda hubris, that’s for sure.

  • Ani

    Clearly — becaues as one of the Dem. reps. said recently, “we just make it up as we go along.”

  • jbjd

    OMG, know what this reminds me of?  In this health insurance debacle, we have these Congresspeople who ignored the will of the majority of their constituents by passing this bill, notwithstanding that even when questioned, these officials did not seem to know what was in it; and that the Speaker of the House recommended passage to find out what it said; now getting hit with the realization, it’s even WORSE FOR THEM!  And in Texas, where I pointed out, the evidence is clear, the R’s are just as culpable as the D’s for enabling the election fraud; the seminal case I found to establish, the statement of TDP Chair Richie that BO is eligible, is a lie; was signed by a Justice on the Supreme Court of Texas, Judge Abbott; who is now the R AG of Texas who refuses to investigate the citizen complaints of election fraud against Boyd Richie!

    A pox on both their houses.

  • Ferd Berfle

    jbjd–mea culpa. I never thought you were for the bill. I suppose I might be for some sort of change to the current system provided it is specific, addresses cause, and prevents recurrence.