Fox News hyped a lawsuit by Republican Senator Ron Johnson (WI) against the federal government to revive the long-debunked myth that Congress got exemptions from the Affordable Care Act by receiving the same employer contribution for its insurance that it traditionally received.
Federal Judge Hears Lawsuit Brought By Sen. Johnson Claiming Health Insurance Subsidies Provided To Congress Are Illegal
Lawsuit Against Congress' Employer Subsidies Gets Day In Court. On July 7, a federal judge in Wisconsin heard a lawsuit brought by Sen. Ron Johnson claiming the Obama administration “overstepped its authority” by providing subsidies to members of Congress and their staff to pay for health coverage purchased on the insurance exchange:
Johnson is asserting that the Obama administration overstepped its authority when it gave members of Congress and their staff subsidies to help pay for health insurance purchased on an Obamacare exchange, regardless of what they earn.
The senator says the move harmed him because the administration asked him to determine which of his staff will get the subsidy and is forcing him to participate in something he believes is illegal and not available to other Americans. [USA Today, 7/7/14]
Fox Peddles Sen. Johnson's Claim Of Congressional Exemptions On Health Care
Fox News' Jim Angle: Obama Administration Gave Congress What “No Other American Gets.” During his report on Sen. Johnson's lawsuit on the July 7 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, chief national correspondent Jim Angle claimed the Obama administration is giving members of Congress financial perks to pay for health insurance not available to other Americans. Host Bret Baier implied the administration's exemption gives Congress “special treatment” on taxpayers' “dime”:
ANGLE: Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is trying to sue the Obama administration because it gave many of those in Congress something no other American gets -- tax-free money to cover their cost on Obamacare.
SEN. JOHNSON [video clip]: Americans hate it when elected officials or people in power are exempt from laws.
ANGLE: The law was clear that those in Congress would be treated the same, but then the administration issued a ruling that did the opposite. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 7/7/14]
The Obama Administration Has Not Granted Congress An Exemption 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 2013 explained that the claim that the president “exempted Congress from the Affordable Care Act” 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, via Media Matters]
Washington Post: Federal Government Employees Will Be “Ineligible For Any Tax Credits Or Subsidies” Beyond Employer Contribution. In a post on The Washington Post's Wonkblog, Ezra Klein explained that because the exchanges were not meant for employers, the entire cost for insurance policies 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.” An August 2013 piece in The New Republic 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. [The New Republic, 8/13/13]