The latest Republican plan to replace Obamacare exempts members of Congress and their staff from key changes to the health care system the GOP is trying to unravel.
The new proposal would allow members of Congress, their families and their employees to have access to the same list of benefits that Obamacare guarantees, and insurance companies couldn’t charge them more if they were old or sick.
The plan was negotiated by House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, a conservative from North Carolina, and Tom MacArthur, a New Jersey Republican who leads the moderate Tuesday Group.
MacArthur, though, is not supportive of the congressional provision. In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the congressman said he was opposed to giving members of Congress and their staff special treatment, according to Vox.
The statement said MacArthur was working “with House leadership to make absolutely clear that Members of Congress and staff are subject to the same rules, provisions, and protections as all other Americans.”
Republicans have made ending Obamacare a major party rallying cry. Now that the GOP controls both Houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in 10 years, officials have been eagerly seeking ways to repeal and replace the seven-year-old law.
They’ve been thwarted, often by disputes between conservatives and centrists in their own party.
This week, they came up with a modified plan that would allow states to apply for waivers that would let them opt out of Obamacare requirements to cover a list of “essential benefits,” including maternity care and mental health treatment.
States also could obtain waivers to permit insurers to charge customers more if they are older or suffer from preexisting conditions.
But the proposal also includes language that members of Congress and their staff would be exempted in states that got those waivers.
“Basically what this does is it makes it so that members of Congress would be guaranteed to continue to receive certain consumer protections that might be repealed or waived for some of their constituents,” said Cynthia Cox, associate director of health reform and private insurance with Kaiser Family Foundation.
Meadows and MacArthur presented their proposal as a compromise. Several conservative groups that had been opposed to previous proposals endorsed the Meadows-MacArthur plan Wednesday, including Heritage Action and Club for Growth.
Meadows did not immediately reply to request for comment. MacArthur’s office voice mail was full.
Experts say there’s some question about whether the waivers would even apply to members of Congress in the first place.
Even if the exemption gets removed, members of Congress, their relatives and staffers with preexisting conditions would still be protected because a provision in the Affordable Care Act requires them to buy their insurance through the small business market in the District of Columbia. Under the Meadows-MacArthur amendment, the waivers only apply to the individual market, not the small business market.
“The bigger-picture moral of the story is that even if this exemption gets taken out, members of Congress will still have protection for preexisting conditions, whereas it’s no longer a guarantee for other people buying on the exchange,” Cox said.
Democrats lost no time in blasting the “morally bankrupt” exemption, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign committee launched a series of digital ads against GOP lawmakers they said had yet to stake out a position on the proposal, including Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas and Robert Pittenger of North Carolina.
CJ Grover, a spokesman for Yoder, said the congressman "is still working through these new changes to the bill, but he certainly opposes exempting Members of Congress or staff from any changes that would affect other Kansans on the individual market."