Harry Reid exempts some of his Senate staff from Obamacare exchanges

Yahoo News

View photo

.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is exempting some of his staff from the new healthcare law (The Week)

One of the biggest public supporters of the Affordable Care Act has reportedly decided that some of his staff should be exempted from the new law.

CNN reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is the only top congressional leader to exempt some of his staff from having to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

That’s right, even House Majority Leader John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who have voted against the healthcare law dozens of times, have told their staff to sign up for insurance plans through the federal exchange.

The news will likely provide another talking point to critics of the healthcare law, commonly known as Obamacare. After all, members of Congress and their staff are not only required to buy insurance through the exchanges, they must buy plans in the “gold” tier, the second most-expensive option available.

Yahoo News has reached out to the offices of all 100 U.S. senators to see if any other members have exempted committee staff from the federal exchange. So far, the offices of 42 senators have responded to our inquiry, with 39 saying that the senator and their entire staff will switch over to the exchanges in January.

The offices of Ron Wyden, Tim Johnson and Barbara Boxer, all Democrats, said they were exempting some of their staff. Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, has not responded.

A spokesman for Louisiana Republican David Vitter told Yahoo News that the senator has introduced the "Show Your Exemption Act," which would require all members of Congress to publicly list which staff members have been exempted.

We've included a full list of senators who have responded at the bottom of this story.

Conservative pundits were quick to jump on the news Wednesday. Hot Air editor Ed Morrissey wrote, "If Obama can’t even convince the man who shoved ObamaCare through the Senate by parliamentary chicanery, though, how can anyone else believe him?”

When the Affordable Care Act passed, it included language that stipulated Congressional staff members must purchase healthcare plans from the federal exchange, which is designed specifically for, and limited to, federal government employees and their families. But the law didn't say that the government would continue to provide staffers a tax-free subsidy (of around 70 percent), meaning those employees, most of whom wouldn't qualify for the low-income subsidies, would have to pay for their plan without help from their "employer."

However, this summer The Office of Personnel Management, the government's HR department, decided the government would provide staffers with a subsidy roughly equivalent to what they've been receiving. While it's technically true staffers have not been exempted from the law, as some Republicans claimed, staffers have been provided a privilege that is not written into the law.

So, how is Reid explaining why he's not requiring all of his staff to sign up for new plans?

Though the law requires members of Congress and their personal staff to sign up under the federal exchange, CNN reports that committee and leadership staff are not bound by the same requirements.

As Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson told CNN, "We are just following the law."

Still, the decision seems to contradict an earlier statement made by Reid in September, when rumors were circulating that Congress was attempting to exempt itself from Obamacare.

"Let's stop these really juvenile political games – the one dealing with healthcare for senators and House members and our staff,” Reid said at the time. “We are going to be part of exchanges, that's what the law says and we'll be part of that."

Which senators are exempting some of their staff from the Affordable Care Act, according to a poll conducted by Yahoo News?

Lamar Alexander (R-TN): No

Kelly Ayotte (R-NH): No

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI): No

John Barrasso (R-WY): No

Barbara Boxer (D-CA): Some

Sherrod Brown (D-OH): No

Richard Burr (R-NC): No

Ben Cardin (D-MD): No

Thomas Carper (D-DE): No

Saxby Chambliss (R-GA): No

Thad Cochran (R-MS): No

Susan Collins (R-ME): No

Christopher Coons (D-DE): No

Bob Corker (R-TN): No

John Cornyn (R-TX): No

Ted Cruz (R-TX): No

Richard Durbin (D-IL): No

Diane Feinstein (D-CA): No

Dean Heller (R-NV): No

Mazie Hirono (D-HI): No

John Hoeven (R-ND): No

Johnny Isakson (R-GA): No

Ron Johnson (R-WI): No

Tim Johnson (D-SD): Yes

Patrick Leahy (D-VT): No

Mike Lee (R-UT): No

Joe Manchin (D-WV): No

Robert Menendez (D-NJ): No

Barbara Mikulski (D-MD): No

Lisa Murkowski (R-AK): No

Christopher Murphy (D-CT): No

Patty Murray (D-WA): No

Rob Portman (R-OH): No

Jack Reed (D-RI): No

James Risch (R-ID): No

Marco Rubio (R-FL): No

John Thune (R-SD): No

Pat Toomey (R-PA): No

Mark Udall (D-CO): No

David Vitter (R-LA): No

Roger Wicker (R-MS): No

Ron Wyden (D-OR): Some