Washington – President Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, continues to be a key weapon in Republican campaigns, including that of Mark Greenberg, a GOP candidate for Congress in Connecticut's 5th District.
In a recent fundraising letter, Greenberg said, “Congress and (Rep.) Elizabeth Esty have just been given an exemption from Obamacare. Are you as upset as I am?”
The letter said the IRS also received an exception from the ACA.
“I want an exemption from Obamacare. You probably want an exemption too,” the letter said.
The reality is that neither Esty -- the 5th District Democratic congresswoman Greenberg seeks to unseat -- or employees of the IRS or Congress are exempt from the ACA.
Like most Americans, Esty must be covered by health insurance Jan. 1 or face a penalty. She plans to continue to seek coverage under her husband Dan Esty’s policy, her press secretary, Jeb Fain, said.
As the head of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Dan Esty is covered under a state government plan.
Greenberg’s campaign declined to answer questions about the fundraising letter.
But Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Greenberg’s attack on the ACA was politically astute, especially if that attack includes the IRS, which is under fire for its investigation of conservative groups.
“It’s a double whammy,” Ornstein said. “If you are trying to raise money from conservatives, combining their hatred for Obamacare with their hatred of the IRS is a real win, but it has nothing to do with what’s real or true.”
Like all other federal workers, IRS employees receive insurance coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).
But Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., has introduced a bill that would force federal workers to purchase insurance from state health exchanges that, under the ACA, will start operations Jan. 1.
The union representing IRS workers, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), cried foul, saying federal employees want to keep the coverage they have.
But that’s not the same as asking for an exemption from the ACA. Under the law, if you have a qualified plan, you don’t have to buy a policy from the exchanges. And large employers like the federal government — defined in the law as employers with more than 100 employees — aren’t allowed onto the insurance exchanges until 2017, and then only if a state allows them in.
The exchanges are aimed at helping uninsured people purchase insurance. But, since Camp’s bill is far from becoming law, no one is forced to use the exchanges to purchase insurance, with one exception.
To try to derail the ACA when it was considered by Congress in 2010, Senate Republicans forced Democrats to accept a provision that said members of Congress and their staffs, unless they work for a congressional committee, could no longer get their coverage under the FEHBP.
That will force many who work on Capitol Hill and aren’t on Medicare or their spouse’s policy, to buy insurance through a state exchange next year.
Ornstein said the move to take congressional workers off the FEHBP was a “mischievous poison pill” aimed at stripping members of Congress and their employees of the 80 percent premium cost-share FEHBP participants receive from the federal government.
But that didn’t work because the Office of Personnel Management has determined that the federal government can continue to pay 80 percent of a congressional employee’s premium, even if it’s purchased through an exchange.
Because they can no longer seek coverage under the FEHBP, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, will buy insurance coverage through Connecticut’s health exchange, their press secretaries said.
Sara Lonardo, DeLauro’s press secretary, said she will purchase insurance through Washington, D.C.’s exchange, because she lives in the city.
The congresswoman’s state employees will use Connecticut’s exchange, Lonardo said.
Josh Zembik, press secretary for Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the senator will continue to be covered under Medicare.
Ornstein said Republican charges that government workers were exempt or seeking exemptions from Obamacare “is just trying to throw acid on the face of the ACA.”
“If the charges are not bogus, they are widely distorted,” Ornstein said.
Some people are exempt from paying penalties under the ACA for not having coverage. That includes prisoners, the very poor, certain religious groups and members of Indian tribes. But the GOP is not talking about them when they accuse others of wiggling out of Obamacare.
“As your next Congressman, if we cannot pass a repeal of Obamacare, then I am going to do everything in my power to pass a national exemption. Why should Congress and other allies of the administration be exempt?” Greenberg asked in his fundraising letter.
Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said, “The Republican campaign against the ACA has only intensified since its enactment.”
“I can't think of a comparable party effort to kill, defund, discredit, or nullify a duly enacted public law in American history,” Mann said.
A new political playbook for House Republicans encourages lawmakers to condemn the ACA during August recess at town hall meetings and other forums with constituents.
It also told Republican House members to make sure local businessmen condemn the ACA.
"While they do not have to be Republicans, they need to be able to discuss the negative effects of Obamacare on their employees,” the GOP planning guide said.