Right-Wing Media's Latest Zombie Myth: Congress Is "Exempt" From Obamacare


Florida Watchdog.org, an offshoot of the Koch brothers-funded Watchdog.org, parroted right-wing media claims that Congress is receiving an "exemption" from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by receiving a "special subsidy" from the government for its health insurance. However, this zombie lie is not based in fact and is due to a Republican effort to politicize the implementation of the law.

Florida Watchdog.org Pushes Claim That Public Officials Get Special Obamacare Benefit

Florida Watchdog.org: "When It Comes To Obamacare, What's Good Enough For The Public Apparently Isn't Quite Good Enough For Public Officials." According to a post on Florida Watchdog.org, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is introducing legislation to block subsidies that members of Congress and their staff will receive under the Affordable Care Act. Florida Watchdog.org explained that this was due to an Office of Personnel and Management decision to give "all members of Congress and their staffs a 75 percent across-the-board health exchange subsidy":

The Affordable Care Act initially required most Capitol Hill employees to give up their federal health insurance by the end of this year and participate in the Obamacare state health exchanges - a central aspect of the health care overhaul.

But a recent administrative rule issued by the Office of Personnel and Management - Congress's Human Resources Department - gives all members of Congress and their staffs a 75 percent across-the-board health exchange subsidy.

That's much more than what's offered to everyone else. [Florida Watchdog.org, 9/16/13]

Right-Wing Media Have Continually Pushed Obamacare "Exemption" Myth

CNS News: Congress And Staff Members Will Get "Special Taxpayer Subsidies." An August 27 article discussed DeSantis's proposed legislation seeking to block Congress and its staffs from receiving "special taxpayer subsidies":

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) says it's not fair that members of Congress and their staffs will get special taxpayer subsidies to help them pay their Obamacare premiums in the new health insurance exchanges.

"I don't think it's fair at all," DeSantis told Fox News's Greta Van Susteren. [CNS News, 9/27/13]

NRO's John Fund: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) Is Seeking To "End An Exemption" That Gives Congress "Generous Subsidies" To Pay For Health Insurance. In a September 16 article by John Fund on the National Review Online, Fund highlighted the argument in Congress over "whether Congress should be treated like the rest of the county when it comes to Obamacare." The article stated further:

Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, has demanded a floor vote on his bill to end an exemption that members of Congress and their staffs are slated to get that will make them the only participants in the new Obamacare exchanges to receive generous subsidies from their employer to pay for their health insurance. Angry Senate Democrats have drafted legislation that dredges up a 2007 prostitution scandal involving Vitter. The confrontation is a perfect illustration of just how wide the gulf in attitudes is between the Beltway and the rest of the country -- and how viciously Capitol Hill denizens will fight for their privileges.


Democratic and Republican staffers alike were furious, warning that Congress faced a "brain drain" if the provision stuck. Under behind-the-scenes pressure from members of Congress in both parties, President Obama used the quiet of the August recess to personally order the Office of Personnel Management, which supervises federal employment issues, to interpret the law so as to retain the generous congressional benefits. [National Review Online, 9/16/13]

Heritage Foundation: "Washington's Arrogant Political Class Is Getting Exemptions Of Special Treatment Denied To Ordinary Americans." According to a September 16 post on the Heritage Foundation's The Foundry blog, Congress is getting a special subsidy "through questionable administrative action" and is getting "special treatment" not available to the general public:

While Members of Congress and their personal staffs are required to enroll in Obamacare's exchanges, the White House, through questionable administrative action, is providing them hefty taxpayer subsidies to offset the resultant increase in their personal health care costs. In other words, Washington's arrogant political class is getting exemptions or special treatment denied to ordinary Americans. [Heritage Foundation, 9/16/13]

The Obama Administration Is Not Exempting Congress From The Health Care Law

FactCheck.org: "'Special Subsidy' ... Is Simply A Premium Contribution" The Federal Government Has "Long Made To The Health Insurance Policies Of Its Workers." A Factcheck.org article from August 30 explained that a similar claim made by Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) was "misleading" and that "lawmakers and their staffs face additional requirements that other Americans don't":

Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger is misleading his constituents by saying that he will decline the health insurance offered to members of Congress next year because it includes a "special subsidy" from the president that "exempted" Congress from the Affordable Care Act.

Congress isn't "exempt" from the law. It wasn't exempt back in 2010, when we first debunked such a claim; nor were lawmakers exempt in May when the bogus bit surfaced again. Three months later, they're still not exempt. In fact, as we've said before, lawmakers and their staffs face additional requirements that other Americans don't. And the "special subsidy" to which Pittenger refers is simply a premium contribution that his employer, the federal government, has long made to the health insurance policies of its workers.


Our readers may recall that before this provision was created, there were claims circulating that Congress was "exempt" from the law. This twisted reading of the legislation was based on the fact that originally Congress, like other Americans with work-based insurance or Americans on Medicare and Medicaid, wouldn't be eligible for the exchanges. In other words, Congress was supposedly "exempt" when members couldn't participate in the exchanges, and now that they are required to do so, they're still somehow "exempt" from the law. Neither of these convoluted claims is true. [FactCheck.org, 8/30/13]

Washington Post: Federal Government Employees Will Be "Ineligible For Any Tax Credits Or Subsidies" Beyond Employer Contribution. According to a post on The Washington Post's Wonkblog, Ezra Klein explained that because the exchanges were not meant for employers, the entire cost would fall on members of Congress and their staffs. To remedy this, the "Obama administration's compromise is to permit the federal government to contribute toward employee insurance on the exchanges, but to render those employees ineligible for any tax credits or subsidies." [The Washington Post, 8/1/13]

New Republic: "Like The Death Panels And Immigration Myths, The Suggestion That Obama Made Congress Exempt From His Health Care Law Seems Impervious To Reality." According to an August 13 piece in the New Republic, Jonathan Cohn explained that, in "almost certainly a political stunt," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) proposed an amendment to force members of Congress and their staffs to lose their federal health plans and enter into the new exchanges. The piece continued:

The federal government, like most large employers, not only provides the opportunity for its workers to get insurance. It also pays a large portion of the premium. Now that lawmakers and their advisers were going into the exchanges, what would happen to that contribution? Would they just lose the money?

The answer, the administration decided last week, is no. Lawmakers and their staffs could keep their employer contributions, and apply that money towards the cost of whatever insurance they buy in the exchanges. It's actually true to Grassley's ostensible purpose, which was making sure members of lawmakers and their advisers have a stake in the success of the exchanges.


Like the death panels and immigration myths, the suggestion that Obama made Congress exempt from his health care law seems impervious to reality. [New Republic, 8/13/13]

NYMag: Grassley Amendment Forced Government Workers Off Their Employer Insurance And On To The Exchanges.  According to New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait, the Grassley amendment forced government workers to leave their employer-based insurance to go on to the exchanges, which "essentially impos[ed] a massive pay cut on those workers" and the Obama administration "patched up the ambiguously worded Grassley amendment" to continue to provide premium contributions to government employees:

So Grassley's amendment created a situation for government workers that Republicans claimed, falsely, the law would create for everybody else: forcing them off their employer insurance and on to the exchanges. Grassley's amendment didn't even attempt to design a coherent way of changing health-care worker benefits, because, again, it wasn't an attempt to reform health care for Congress and its staff -- it was an attempt to furnish a talking point for Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. It yanked away the subsidized health insurance Congress and its staff get, essentially imposing a massive pay cut on those workers.


Obama's solution to the dilemma was to administratively decide that those congressional employees would get their health care through the exchanges but that the federal government would keep up its same level of premium contributions. The law didn't say the government could keep contributing to their health care, but it didn't say it couldn't either. (Law professor Nicholas Bagley explains why this move is legal.) Basically, Obama has patched up the ambiguously worded Grassley amendment and turned it into something performing the function it was supposed to serve. It puts Congress and its staff on the Obamacare health-insurance exchanges. [New York Magazine, 8/6/13]

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
CNSNews.com, National Review Online, Franklin Center
John Fund
The Heritage Foundation, Heritage Foundation, CNS News, The Foundry
State Media
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.