Here’s Why Federal Workers Don’t Want Obamacare

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“If the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court, along with all their staffs, are required to go under Affordable Healthcare Act, I would not object,” read one response to a survey conducted by FedSmith.com, a portal for information regarding issues — like the Affordable Care Act — that impact federal workers. “But if it’s not good enough for the heads of the 3 branches of Government, it isn’t good enough for the rest of us.”

There were more than 800 written responses in total, a great majority of them expressing the same idea: Federal employees are not pleased at having the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program replaced by Obamacare.

The underlying complaint running through a majority of these opinions was that members of Congress, Capitol Hill staff, and Obama administration appointees will not be affected by potential Obamacare flaws — like premium hikes — as much as the average American.

“When they ‘live it,’ they will know how to improve it,” another respondent wrote.

The survey of 2,500 federal employees and retirees found that 92.3 percent of them believe workers and retirees should keep keep their current health insurance and not be forced to purchase coverage through the exchanges. Only 2.9 percent thought the opposite. The preference for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program was even more obvious when survey respondents were asked whether they think federal employees should carry their health insurance into retirement, as is the current policy, or enroll in Medicare; 96.1 percent said the current system should not be changed.

When Congress first passed the health care reform, known colloquially as Obamacare, three years ago, attached was an amendment requiring all lawmakers and their staffs to purchase health care insurance via the online exchanges. This meant lawmakers would lose the generous coverage they were granted under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program – where the government subsidized as much as 75 percent of the premiums.

It was written into the bill in the first place on the theory that if Congress was going to make Americans live under the provisions of Obamacare, those who authored it should, as well. But because the language of the amendment contained no guidance on whether the federal contributions toward their health plans was allowed, Congress began to worry.

However, the Office of Personnel Management, with President Barack Obama’s consent, ruled August 7 that Congress members and staff would continue to receive the federal contributions toward their health insurance costs.

In April, Michigan Republican Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced legislation that would shift all federal employees from FEHBP to the exchanges. “If the ObamaCare exchanges are good enough for the hardworking Americans and small businesses the law claims to help, then they should be good enough for the president, vice president, Congress, and federal employees,” said Camp’s spokeswoman in a statement.

And now that the Office of Personnel Management has made its decision regarding benefits for Congress, all other federal workers are becoming more worried.

The National Treasury Employees Union — which includes employees of the Internal Revenue Service — asked its members in late July to write to their representatives regarding their concern about Camp’s legislative efforts. “I am a federal employee and one of your constituents,” began one letter. “I am very concerned about legislation that has been introduced by Congressman Dave Camp to push federal employees out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and into the insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.”

The argument is that pushing federal employees out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would be unfair. “It would be unjust to change the rules after I have spent the majority of my working life in a public service career that is not as lucrative as the private sector when the career decision to forgo private sector lucre now was in large part made in response to the promise that benefits would be much better for public service employees when they retire,” wrote another respondent. “I relied upon and take action in response to the promises that were made, so not living up to the promises amount to a fraud that changed my entire career path.”

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Follow Meghan on Twitter @MFoley_WSCS