Skip to main content

Obamacare sign-up concerns congressional staff

By Lisa Desjardins, CNN Capitol Hill Reporter
November 8, 2013 -- Updated 0702 GMT (1502 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Starting Monday, congressional staffers will use the Obamacare health care exchanges
  • Some staffers participated in two information sessions on Thursday
  • They are concerned about higher premiums, especially for older workers
  • Many also want information on insurance plans that exclude abortion

Washington (CNN) -- In the U.S. Capitol basement, an auditorium full of congressional staff grapples with the consequences of how their bosses upstairs wrote the Affordable Care Act.

Starting Monday, they will have to choose a health care plan.

"A lot of employees are planning to separate because of this," one man stood up and declared at the first-ever congressional orientation for Obamacare. By "separate," he meant quit. It was one of many sharp moments of concern at the two information sessions set up by House administrators Thursday.

Both were closed to the press, but CNN was able to watch on an in-house TV channel. The camera faced the stage, not the audience and staff members who spoke could only be heard, not seen in the broadcast. They did not identify themselves and as a result, we cannot name them.

Political fallout over Obamacare site
Democrats on edge over Obamacare
CMA hosts riff on Obamacare
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, is the chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee. On October 31, Issa's committee issued a document subpoena to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for documents and information related to HealthCare.gov. "I've lost my patience," Issa said to CNN's Wolf Blitzer in explaining the decision to use a subpoena. Issa also said his committee has sent a document subpoena to website contractor Optum/QSSI. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, is the chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee. On October 31, Issa's committee issued a document subpoena to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for documents and information related to HealthCare.gov. "I've lost my patience," Issa said to CNN's Wolf Blitzer in explaining the decision to use a subpoena. Issa also said his committee has sent a document subpoena to website contractor Optum/QSSI.
Key players in the health care hearings
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
Key players in the health care hearings Key players in the health care hearings

Several expressed doubts and fears about leaving their familiar federal employees plan and switching to the exchange, including a little-known but potentially costly issue.

"I think the federal government needs to seriously look at whether it is contributing to age discrimination (by forcing staff onto the exchange)," one women said. "The monthly formula for older workers is a serious, serious hit," she went on. "In addition to what I'm paying now, it will be another $300 to $400 a month."

Under the federal employee health plan, premiums do not vary by age. That's possible because the federal benefits system includes millions of employees and negotiates with insurers for that massive group, spreading out the costs widely. But in the exchange, Congress acts as a small business and insurers view it more by individual health needs, charging different premiums for higher-risk staff, like older employees.

Example: Under one BlueCross BlueShield plan available to congressional staff, the premium for a 20-year-old is $262.48 a month, versus $842.41 a month for a 60-year-old. That's not unique to congressional workers. But it is new for them.

Compounding the "hit" they feel is how much Congress kicks in to help with the premium, its employer contribution. It maxes out at $426 a month. The Office of Personnel Management official told CNN that those two things result in much higher premiums for older workers in the exchange than they are paying now under the federal health plan. Of course it also means lower relative premiums for younger workers.

"You should look into that," one man said at Thursday's orientation.

The issues for congressional workers are not just financial.

Some staffers want to select a plan that excludes abortion, "but we've had difficulties figuring out (which one that is)," said one staffer in Thursday's first session. "Which plans are more pro-life?" asked another at the second session later in the day.

In response, insurance company representatives pointed to one multistate plan with BlueCross BlueShield and all eight plans offered by Aetna.

More than 100 plans in total are offered to congressional staff. Those forced into the exchange have just under a month to pick one, starting Monday when the enrollment window set by congressional administrators opens.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Nationally, consumers are learning a number of well-known hospitals won't accept insurance under Obamacare.
December 23, 2013 -- Updated 1816 GMT (0216 HKT)
Open enrollment started October 1. Here's a step-by-step guide to navigating the insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges.
October 22, 2013 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
A host of issues have plagued the highly anticipated launch, making it difficult for both consumers and insurance providers.
October 19, 2013 -- Updated 0837 GMT (1637 HKT)
Obamacare has survived a Supreme Court appeal, a government shutdown and ongoing challenges by opposing politicians. With few exceptions, every American must have health insurance by March 31 or pay a penalty fee.
September 26, 2013 -- Updated 1444 GMT (2244 HKT)
If you don't know what all those health insurance buzz-words like "co-pay" and "premium" mean, you're not alone.
October 2, 2013 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Obamacare is expected to increase demand for medical services. That, plus a shortage of doctors, may mean the appointment has to wait.
October 2, 2013 -- Updated 1557 GMT (2357 HKT)
Lauren Zanardelli and Graham Foster are the kind of customers the government needs to make Obamacare work.
August 11, 2013 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Reince Priebus said the GOP will campaign against what he describes as "European, socialist healthcare" in the upcoming election.
It's a popular assertion, but is it true? The CNN Politics team hunts down the facts.
Our map shows which states have expanded Medicaid and includes links to marketplace options.
Some may offer help navigating the new health insurance marketplace for a fee. Others will warn that you will need a new Medicare card.
September 30, 2013 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
Who's in, who's out... and what about the costs? CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta breaks down Obamacare.
Consumers can avoid the exchanges by buying plans directly from insurers or through brokers. But should they?
Here's the first look at insurance premiums on 36 exchanges run by the federal government.
September 25, 2013 -- Updated 1446 GMT (2246 HKT)
If we want to be realistic about health care reform, we have to acknowledge that everything comes with a tradeoff, Dr. Aaron E. Carroll says.
Check out our page with all things you need to know about Obamacare and how it will affect you.
ADVERTISEMENT