“If this health reform is so great, why is Congress exempt from it?!” If I had a dollar for everytime I’ve heard that rhetorical question posed in the last month, I’d be able to take my wife out for a nice night on the town. But it is a fair question, and I hope to clear some things up about it here.
First, the coverage Congress enjoys isn’t unique to Congress. It’s more powerful to limit it to Congress when they’re the ones responsible for the health reform legislation people are so upset about, but the fact of the matter is that Congress participates in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). Just to be clear: There are many more federal employees than members of Congress. To be exact, there are 535 members of Congress. There are roughly 2.7 million federal civilian employees who also have access to FEHBP.
Second, the FEHBP is a form of managed competition–a way to make sure that private insurers compete on the basis of price and quality through regulation–an idea developed by economist Alain Enthoven that was the center piece of the proposed Clinton reform, and that is essentially what is being proposed now in the form of the public option and the insurance exchange. That is to say, Congress is actually trying to give the American people the same model of coverage that all federal employees enjoy–not trying to exempt itself from some less than stellar reform deal.
Third, and finally, none of this is “free” or paid for entirely by the taxpayers. In fact, the FEHBP works just like any other employer-based coverage: the employer and the employee both pay a portion of the costs. It just turns out in this case that the employer is the federal government. So, yes, in some sense taxpayers do pay for part of this coverage, but the same could be said in private industry. When you make a purchase, the business uses some portion of that income to pay for benefits for their employees and another portion to pay the employee’s wages–some of which is also used to pay for benefits.
So, you see, it’s not nearly as bad as it’s being made out to be. In fact, the very thing people are arguing against is untrue. They could have the same benefits as Congress, if they’d just stop swallowing the lethal combination of misinformation and cognitive dissonance supressant that FOX News is peddling at such an alarming rate and start learning about what’s actually being proposed.