Under an amendment to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), members of Congress and their staffs are required to purchase health insurance “created” by the ACA or “offered through an exchange” established under the law. “This was the confidence-building covenant supporters of the law made to reassure skeptics that ObamaCare would live up to its billing,” Johnson wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed explaining why he was suing. “They wanted to appear eager to avail themselves of the law’s benefits and be more than willing to subject themselves to the exact same rules, regulations and requirements as their constituents.”
Indeed, when the Senate Finance Committee unanimously adopted the Grassley amendment in 2009, chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) declared, “I’m very gratified that you have so much confidence in our program that you’re going to be able to purchase the new program yourself, and I’m confident too that the system will work very well.” (Four years later, Baucus was to reverse himself on this last point, warning that he foresaw a “train wreck” ahead and wisely choosing to retire rather than to face voters’ wrath in the aftermath of the disaster.)
After passing the law, however, lawmakers realized what they had done to themselves. Because the existing Federal Employee Health Plan, under which the government picks up 75 percent of the tab for employees’ coverage, is not a qualified plan under the Grassley amendment, members of Congress and their staffs would have been forced to buy insurance on an exchange. That meant they would have to pay for coverage out of their own after-tax income — and often at full price given the inflated salaries of many Capitol employees, which make them ineligible for ObamaCare’s income-based subsidies.
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Photo of Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) with two lawyers announcing his lawsuit: AP Images