Fox News' Ed Henry lied to defend the GOP's newest health care proposal, falsely claiming it would force federal employees to participate in exchanges the same way other consumers will.
On the October 15 edition of Fox's Your World, Henry -- Fox's chief White House correspondent -- reported that the latest House Republican bill to reopen the government included the Vitter amendment, a proposal by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) that Henry claimed would make White House and congressional staff "live under ObamaCare and give up their generous subsidies that they already have." Henry went on to claim the amendment would make these federal employees "live under the exchanges like the rest of the country":
But Henry misrepresented what the Vitter amendment does. It doesn't force government employees to live under the exchanges like the rest of the country, it actually creates a special situation for those workers that would cause them to lose the employer contribution to their health plans that private sector employees enjoy, making their health plans significantly more expensive than the contribution from other exchange consumers. In a Politico op-ed, Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, explained that the Vitter amendment doesn't end special treatment for congressional employees, it creates a special circumstance:
In reality, it's the critics -- as part of their ongoing assault on the health care law -- who are seeking special treatment for Congress, by proposing to make members and their staffs the only workers in the United States whose employer is barred by law from helping to cover their premiums. There's no reason to discriminate against members and their staffs in this way, especially when doing so would make it more difficult to recruit and retain high-caliber congressional staff.
Here's the issue: Under a provision authored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and added to the legislation during the Senate Finance Committee's health care deliberations in 2009, members of Congress and their staffs won't be allowed to continue buying coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which offers a variety of health insurance plans to federal employees. Instead, congressional staffers and members will only be able to enroll in plans offered in the ACA's new exchanges, with the government continuing to make an employer contribution. (Grassley himself has confirmed that he intended for the federal government to continue making employer contributions under the provision.)
If critics truly wanted to make sure there is nothing unique here, they would propose dropping the Grassley amendment and treat members of Congress and their staffs the same as other federal (and private-sector) employees, by allowing them to continue to enroll in plans offered through FEHBP, with the federal government continuing to make a contribution to help cover the costs. That's how health reform treats other employers: It allows them to maintain current insurance arrangements and contribute on their employees' behalf.
The Brookings Institution's John Hudak explained that because the Vitter amendment forces congressional staffers to pay more for insurance than their private sector counterparts, the proposal "can have serious, negative effects on government -- particularly the federal workforce":
First, the bill affects higher paid, more experienced Congressional staff. These individuals serve on Congressional staffs because of a call to public service, the appeal of benefits, or the excitement of the work -- often despite higher paying job opportunities in the private sector. Are their salaries above average? Absolutely. Are they doing top quality work in an institution that needs all the help it can get? Yes! The cut in the employer contribution may incentivize some of the more experienced talent on Congressional staffs to exit public service. This loss of experienced, quality staff is the absolute wrong way to improve government.
Second and more painfully, the burden of the Vitter Amendment falls on the shoulders of junior staff. This topic receives little attention, but deserves the most. Junior staffers -- staff assistants, legislative coordinators, etc. -- are paid the least and have fewer alternative employment options, when compared to their senior colleagues. They are hardworking individuals who often spend their days dealing with angry constituents. The Vitter Amendment targets this group the most. Unlike others who work for large employers they will receive no employer contribution for health care.
Will these employees be able to get affordable health care on the Exchanges? Yes. However, they will be excluded from something millions of Americans enjoy: the employer contribution. In the end, budget debates and their associated political antics have victims. Often times, the federal workforce and government efficiency suffer the most.