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Posts tagged ‘Federal Employees Health Benefits Program’

Congressional Staffers Warned Not to Assume They Have Healthcare Coverage.


Senate employees are being cautioned not to take for granted that they have healthcare coverage even if they signed up through the District of Columbia insurance exchange, Fox News reports.

“Please do not assume you are covered unless you have seen the Confirmation Letter from the Disbursing Office!” the Senate Disbursing Office warned in an email Wednesday. The message continued, “Do not rely on your ‘My Account’ page or other correspondence” from the exchange as proof of coverage.

Dan Strodel, the chief administrative officer of the House, said he was also aware of “significant problems” that had prevented enrollment through the DC Health Link exchange. He has asked the Office of Personnel Management to take “immediate steps” to ensure that House lawmakers and staff are able to sign up.

The DC Health Link is not administered by the federal HealthCare.gov website. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday in testimony on Capitol Hill that the Obamcare site is “working faster, responding more quickly” and handling “larger volumes of concurrent users.”

However, Fox New reported that the cueing system of the federal site briefly crashed on Wednesday.

Congressional Staffers will continue to have their current Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage until the end of January even if they were unable to sign up for new plans under Obamacare that take effect Jan. 1. Other Capitol Hill employees who do not work directly for a lawmaker are able to retain coverage under their old federal benefits package.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Elliot Jager

Obama Not Yet Enrolled in Namesake Health Law.


Image: Obama Not Yet Enrolled in Namesake Health Law

By Melissa Clyne

Despite promising to enroll in his controversial and problem-plagued signature healthcare legislation, President Obama is still not a customer.

“I don’t have an update for you on that,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday at his daily briefing, USA Today reports. “I know that he will and has said that he will.”

Editor’s NoteObamaCare Is Here. Are You Prepared?

In March 2010 the White House announced that Obama ‘will participate in the exchange,’ the vernacular for the insurance marketplaces.

Carney said he did not have a timetable for when the president would enroll nor did he know if the registration would be open to the press.

Obama and members of Congress are among more than 8 million federal employees, retirees and dependents provided health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program in the country, according to McClatchyDC.com.

Federal workers can choose from dozens of health plans and on average the federal government pays 72 percent of the total premium.

There is no statue explicitly governing the payment of health benefits for former presidents, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

Most former federal employees must be enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program for five years to qualify for health benefits, the report states, and the General Services Administration has historically interpreted similar service requirements for a former President to qualify.

The Former Presidents Act, which became law in 1958, provides many lifetime benefits to former commanders in chief, such as a hefty pension – currently $199,700 annually.

Former presidents also receive funding for an office staff and “suitable office
space, appropriately furnished and equipped,” as well as lifetime Secret Service protection.

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama’s Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll 

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Abortion Cover for Congress Under Obamacare?.


It’s an issue lawmakers may not want to have to explain at town hall meetings back home:

An attempt to fix a problem with the new health care law has created a situation in which members of Congress and their staffers could gain access to abortion coverage, something that currently is denied to federal employees who get health insurance through the government’s plan.

Abortion opponents say the Obama administration needs to fix it; abortion rights supporters say the concern is overblown.

Editor’s Note: Should ObamaCare Be Repealed? Vote in Urgent National Poll 

The abortion complication is a new headache for the administration as it tries to shoehorn members of Congress and certain staffers into insurance markets coming later this year under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. An amendment by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley — who opposes both the health care overhaul and abortion — requires lawmakers and their personal staff to get private coverage through the same markets that uninsured Americans will use.

Last week, the White House Office of Personnel Management said the government would keep paying its share of premiums for lawmakers and affected staffers who must leave the federal employee health care system by Jan. 1. That eased a major anxiety for several thousand staffers accustomed to getting the same benefits as other federal employees.

But the proposed regulation did not explicitly address abortion coverage. Under the health care law, insurance plans in the new markets may cover abortion unless a state passes a law prohibiting them from doing so. Plans offering coverage for abortion, however, may not use federal funds to pay for it and must collect a separate premium from enrollees. Federal tax credits to help the uninsured afford coverage must also be kept apart.

Abortion opponents say the proposal from the personnel office would circumvent a longstanding law that bars the use of taxpayer funds for “administrative expenses in connection with any health plan under the federal employees health benefits program which provides any benefits or coverage for abortions.” Unlike many private corporate plans, federal employee plans only cover abortions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

“Under this scheme (the government) will be paying the administrative costs,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., author of abortion funding ban for federal employee plans. “It’s a radical deviation and departure from current federal law, and it’s not for all federal employees, but for a subset: Congress. Us.”

Smith is calling on the personnel office to specify that lawmakers and staffers must choose a plan that does not cover abortions. The funding ban even bears his name: It’s known as the Smith amendment.

The personnel office refused to answer questions about the issue on the record. Instead, its media office released a generic statement, saying: “Federal law prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in the case of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered. All plans available in the marketplaces will comply with the law.”

Obama, who supports abortion rights, previously has said he does not want his health care overhaul to change existing laws on abortion.

A leading independent expert on the federal employee plan said abortion opponents appear to have raised a legitimate question, but the applicable laws are so arcane that it’s hard to tell whether they’re right.

“This goes into a legal thicket the complexity of which I can’t begin to fathom,” said Walton Francis, lead author of an annual guide to federal health benefits. “It would take lawyers hours to decipher the interrelationship between these statutes, and they would probably come to different conclusions.”

It’s even legally murky whether the government can continue to pay its regular share of the premiums for lawmakers and staffers, he added.

Abortion opponents say the longstanding ban on “administrative expenses” related to abortion coverage precludes the personnel office from dealing with health plans that cover abortion.

“To comply with the Smith amendment, they would have to advise members and congressional staff that they can only choose plans that do not cover abortions,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. “And, of course, they would have to enforce it.”

Abortion remains a legal medical procedure in most places, but it’s subject to increasing restrictions in many states. So far, 23 states have barred or restricted abortion coverage by plans in the new health insurance markets. But the other 27 states and Washington, D.C., have not. Under the health care law, every state must have at least one plan that does not cover abortion.

Judy Waxman, a leading attorney for the National Women’s Law Center, said the outcry from abortion opponents is overblown.

In the new insurance markets under Obama’s law, states decide whether abortion can be offered, she explained. If it’s allowed, insurers decide whether they want to offer the coverage. But they have to make sure funds to pay for it are segregated from federal money.

“No federal money will go to abortion,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Should ObamaCare Be Repealed? Vote in Urgent National Poll 

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Congress Wriggles Free of Obamacare Restrictions.


Congress has partially wriggled free from the “Obamacare” health reforms that it passed and subjected itself to three years ago.

In a ruling issued on Wednesday, U.S. lawmakers and their staffs will continue to receive a federal contribution toward the health insurance that they must purchased through soon-to-open exchanges created by President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

The decision by the Office of Personnel Management, with Obama’s blessing, will prevent the largely unintended loss of healthcare benefits for 535 members of the Senate and House of Representatives and thousands of Capitol Hill staff.

Editor’s Note: Should ObamaCare Be Repealed? Vote in Urgent National Poll

When Congress passed the health reform law known as “Obamacare” in 2010, an amendment required that lawmakers and their staff members purchase health insurance through the online exchanges that the law created. They would lose generous coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

The amendment’s author, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, argued that if Obamacare plans were good enough for the American public, they were good enough for Congress. Democrats, eager to pass the reforms, went along with it.

But it soon became apparent the provision contained no language that allowed federal contributions toward their health plans that cover about 75 percent of the premium costs.

This caused fears that staff would suddenly face sharply higher healthcare costs and leave federal service, causing a “brain drain” on Capitol Hill.

But Wednesday’s ruling from the OPM, the federal government’s human resources agency, means that Congress will not have to fully live with the reform language that it created – just as Republicans are trying frantically to delay or defund the program.

The OPM said the federal contributions will be allowed to continue for plans purchased on the new online health insurance exchanges, ensuring that Capitol Hill employees will effectively get the same health contributions as millions of other federal employees who are not being thrown onto the exchanges.

STILL MUST PURCHASE PLANS

“These proposed regulations implement the administrative aspects of switching members of Congress and congressional staff to their new insurance plans – the same plans available to millions of Americans through the new exchanges,” Jon Foley, OPM Director of Planning and Policy, said in a statement.

Lawmakers and staff still must purchase plans on the exchanges for coverage that starts in January, OPM said, and they will not be eligible for tax credits to offset premium payments. These credits are the main federal subsidy mechanism for all other health plans purchased through Obamacare exchanges due to open in October. These tax subsidies fall off quickly as income rises.

Tim Jost, a healthcare law expert at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, said it was probably never Congress’ intention to take away federal benefit contributions from Capitol Hill employees, just to push them into them into the exchanges.

There is nothing in the health law that prohibits private companies from contributing to employee health insurance premiums for plans purchased on the health exchanges, Jost said.

“This clarifies what they really intended to do all along,” Jost said. “Congress had subjected itself to a requirement that applied to nobody else in the country.”

But the OPM ruling has been caught up in the rising din of political rhetoric over Obamacare as the launch of the health exchanges nears in October. The exchanges are key to the law’s core requirement that uninsured Americans obtain health coverage or face a tax penalty.

A recent one-year delay in a requirement for larger employers to offer health coverage has sparked a new wave of Republican anger at the reforms and fueled efforts to delay or de-fund them.

Republican Senator John Cornyn last week called relief for Capitol Hill employees “an outrageous exemption for Congress” in a Twitter message as news reports of the effort to find a solution to the problem began to surface.

Cornyn, like most Republicans, wants to halt the Obamacare reforms. However, he has stopped short of endorsing a call by Republican Senators Ted Cruz, a fellow Texan, and Marco Rubio of Florida to threaten a government shutdown by opposing funding legislation in September if it contains any money for Obamacare.

Editor’s Note: Should ObamaCare Be Repealed? Vote in Urgent National Poll

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

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