WASHINGTON — 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, lawmakers and their staffs will continue to receive a federal contribution toward the health insurance that they must purchase 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.
Two Democratic representatives of the New Hampshire congressional delegation said the rule does not exempt federal employees from the law, it only assures them a continuation of the employer share of premium.
"Members of Congress and their staffs will not be exempt from the health care law," said Rob Friedlander, communications director for 2nd District Rep. Annie Kuster, a Democrat.
"OPM's ruling simply clarifies that these individuals will remain eligible for employer contributions towards the cost of their health plans, just like other federal workers and many private-sector employees."
Shripal Shah, communications director for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said the change clears up an oversight in the original legislation.
"Congress is not exempt from the healthcare law," he said.
"Members of Congress and their staffs are no longer eligible to participate in the Federal Employee Health Benefit plans and instead will purchase healthcare through state exchanges.
The OPM decision simply makes it clear that the employer share of premiums will continue."
Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte opposes the rule, spokeswoman Liz Johnson said.
"Senator Ayotte believes that members of Congress and their staff should be treated like everyone else, and she disagrees with the administration's rule because she believes that Obamacare should be repealed for everyone, or at a minimum, the administration should have delayed this flawed law for all individuals as it did for businesses."
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.