Fox's Greta Van Susteren pushed the debunked myth that members of Congress have special exemptions from Obamacare by attempting to spin the fact that they may revert to federal benefits upon retirement as special treatment. In reality, not requiring retired members of Congress to stay on an exchange plan avoids giving them unfair advantage over other federal employees in retirement, and is in compliance with the wording of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On the March 3 edition of Fox News' On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren introduced a segment on an alleged Obamacare loophole by saying that "members of Congress and their staff members are being offered that escape hatch when they retire" which will allow them to "go back to their federal employee health coverage." Van Susteren's guest, former Republican senator and president of the conservative Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint, twisted the retirement stipulation as evidence that "the big guys get taken care of with one plan, but the average Joe gets to deal with a cash for clunkers type of health plan that we got with Obamacare":
This attempt to cast the fact that retired members of Congress are not required to stay on Obamacare as a loophole ignores the fact that the ACA did not specify how a member of Congress should be treated once they leave office and retire. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) decided that requiring retired members of Congress and their staffers to stay on an exchange plan would give them an unfair advantage of greater benefits than other federal employees in retirement (emphasis added):
Under a rule issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) late last year, members and staff who retire will be able to revert back to health coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). That's the same coverage thousands of other federal workers can use when they retire.
The FEHBP lets government retirees choose from a range of options, including health savings accounts, PPOs or HMOs. And none of it has anything to do with ObamaCare.
The OPM had not included a retirement escape clause in its August draft of the rule on congressional coverage. But this flexibility was added in its Oct. 2 final rule, after "numerous commenters" called on the OPM to reconsider.
The OPM ultimately agreed with those commenters and said that, when read closely, the law only applies to members and staff "while they are employed in those positions."
A Feb. 18 report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) puts it plainly. "[T]he final rule allows members and designated congressional staff who are eligible for retirement to enroll in a FEHBP plan upon retirement," the CRS summarized.
The OPM decided that forcing members and staff to stay on ObamaCare would give them "broader health insurance options" than other federal employees upon retirement, which would be unfair.
"We make this change for the additional reason that, otherwise, Members of Congress and congressional staff would have broader health insurance options in the Exchange in retirement than are available to other Federal annuitants," the OPM said.
A report by the Congressional Research Service likewise flies in the face of claims by Van Susteren and DeMint that the ACA's retirement stipulation constitutes a special exemption or "escape hatch." According to the report, members of Congress and their staffers have to meet the same eligibility criteria to purchase a Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) plan in retirement as every other federal employee:
OPM indicates that Members and congressional staff designated as working for an official office of a Member (hereinafter "staff" or "designated staff") who purchase coverage through an exchange will have the ability to enroll in plans offered through FEHBP when they become annuitants, provided they meet the eligibility criteria to do so under 5 U.S.C. Section 8905.12 The eligibility criteria are generally the same criteria that all other federal employees must meet to continue FEHBP coverage in retirement.
This new myth that members of Congress have an "escape hatch" from Obamacare upon retirement is in keeping with Fox's ongoing attempt to manufacture Congressional "exemptions" from the law, an effort that has even been criticized by Republicans.