U.S. to Keep Health Premium Subsidy for Lawmakers, Staff

The U.S. government will keep paying the medical-insurance premium subsidy for members of Congress and thousands of legislative branch employees who starting next year will be forced off the federal civilian benefits plan by the 2010 health-care law.

The Office of Personnel Management has told Congress that premium subsidy payments would continue, according to two Senate aides who asked not to be identified discussing the matter. U.S. lawmakers and other congressional workers will be required to purchase coverage starting Oct. 1 from health-care exchanges set up under the law, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement last night.

While President Barack Obama has pledged that Americans could keep their health plan under the Affordable Care Act, that promise didn’t extend to Congress. The OPM move would ease the potential pay cut from obligating legislative-branch workers to buy insurance outside the federal civilian plan, which pays 75 percent of the premiums’ cost.

Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn has been holding up the nomination of Katherine Archuleta to be the next director of OPM, the government’s personnel agency, until he gets an answer to that question.

If he gets an answer he doesn’t like, Coburn said he’ll propose legislation to make sure that congressional aides -- not lawmakers -- are kept in the government’s health-care plan. The measure would state that congressional aides and employees would remain in the federal employee health-care program.

‘Second Class’

“I am not going to punish federal employees because they happen to work for Congress,” Coburn said in an interview. They shouldn’t be part of a “second class because they work here rather than somewhere else” in the government, he said. Without such a change in the law, if needed, “we are going to lose too many employees and they are too good and they work too hard.”

The personnel agency will announce its decision today, the Washington Post reported, citing an unnamed administration official. Pelosi said in her statement that the law would reduce health-care costs, hold insurance companies accountable and strengthen patients’ rights.

“We will continue our efforts this August to educate consumers on the law’s provisions and tout the critical benefits already in place for millions of Americans,” Pelosi said.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo5@bloomberg.net

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