Health­Care.gov prob­lem­atic for con­gress­men, too

Many have tales of woe try­ing to sign up, though some have had suc­cess

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

For weeks, Capi­tol Hill law­mak­ers have heard sto­ries of both frus­tra­tion and suc­cess from folks back home try­ing to sign up for Oba­macare. Now, law­mak­ers have their own tales to share.

Sen. Tom Coburn, a med­i­cal doc­tor, said he is at wit’s end af­ter his at­tempts to sign up, as the law re­quires him and ev­ery other mem­ber of Congress to do.

“It’s a com­plete fail­ure for me,” said the Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, not­ing that he has tried for days. “It won’t let you progress. It freezes up.”

He said he knows how to work a com­puter just fine, but he’s got staff look­ing into it now.

“Eigh­teen times for me, and that’s enough,” he said.

Oth­ers, though, have had bet­ter luck, with Democrats who pushed the law to pas­sage in 2010 seem­ingly more likely to re­port suc­cess than Repub­li­cans.

“It’s gone pretty good,” Sen. Bill Nel­son, Florida Demo­crat, said. “Ev­ery­thing’s fine.”

Then there are the pro­cras­ti­na­tors, who say they’ll get to it this week, or at least be­fore the Dec. 9 dead­line.

The Af­ford­able Care Act re­quires Capi­tol Hill law­mak­ers and staffers in their of­fi­cial con­gres­sional of­fices to for­feit their gov­ern­ment-spon­sored health care plans and en­roll in state­based insurance ex­changes. The goal was to make law­mak­ers ex­pe­ri­ence what many Amer­i­cans face in the in­di­vid­ual mar­ket­place.

They are sup­posed to shop on the Dis­trict of Columbia’s small-busi­ness ex­change, choos­ing from among 112 op­tions in the gold-tier level of health care plans, ac­cord­ing to guid­ance from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Un­like most other ex­change users, the law­mak­ers will con­tinue to have their em­ploy­ers — in this case, tax­pay­ers — pay for most of their premi­ums.

Sen. Mark Begich, Alaska Demo­crat who faces re-elec­tion next year, an­nounced last week that he had en­rolled in Alaska’s fed­er­ally run ex­change. By opt­ing for his home state’s ex­change, he will not be el­i­gi­ble for any fed­eral sub­sidy.

By many ac­counts, the D.C.-run ex­change is work­ing much bet­ter than its fed­eral coun­ter­part. Em­ploy­ees work­ing with the House and Se­nate have re­ported “very pos­i­tive feed­back in terms of the num­ber of choices, the range of prices, and the rel­a­tive ease of us­ing the sys­tem,” D.C. Health Link spokesman Richard So­rian said.

None­the­less, Repub­li­can dis­gust with Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­forms and the ram­pant glitches that have wreaked havoc with the fed­eral web­site, Health­Care. gov, loom over the task.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Repub­li­can, joked he might out­source the job “to the Chi­nese, who hack into ev­ery­thing else — see if they can get me in.”

Sen. Bob Corker Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, re­ported that he was able to set up a pro­file dur­ing his last at­tempt, but couldn’t get much fur­ther into the process.

“I was on, and then I was off,” he said. “I’ll try again be­fore I go home. Be­cause we know, left to my own ac­cord, I’ll never get on.”

Many of the se­na­tors in­ter­viewed by The Wash­ing­ton Times said their staffs have given the ex­change a test run be­fore they have, and that they’re lean­ing on them for help.

But House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, re­leased a se­quence of pho­tos Thurs­day that show him sit­ting, on his own, at a com­puter and try­ing to sign up. He said he worked past an ini­tial er­ror mes­sage, only to be stymied by an “in­ter­nal server er­ror” screen.

“De­spite mul­ti­ple at­tempts, I was un­able to get past that point and sign up for a health plan,” he said. “We’ve got a call into the help desk. Guess I’ll just have to keep try­ing.”

D.C. ex­change per­son­nel set up a meet­ing room in the Capi­tol’s base­ment Wed­nes­day to help law­mak­ers and staff un­der­stand their op­tions.

The ex­change was quick to note it is hold­ing en­roll­ment fairs for city res­i­dents, too, in­clud­ing a large one at the Martin Luther King Jr. Me­mo­rial Li­brary on Satur­day.

“One thing that some­times gets lost in trans­la­tion on this is the 112 plan choices avail­able to mem­bers and staff are the ex­act same plan choices avail­able to all el­i­gi­ble small busi­nesses in the Dis­trict,” Mr. So­rian said.

But law­mak­ers and staff did get a boost when the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion said they could keep a fed­eral sub­sidy that pays for up to 75 per­cent of their premi­ums.

The Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment came to that con­clu­sion af­ter mem­bers of Congress feared a “brain drain” from the Hill if staff mem­bers had to take on hun­dred or thou­sands of dol­lars in un­sub­si­dized health-pre­mium costs.

Sen. David Vit­ter, Louisiana Repub­li­can, has been a fierce critic of this ex­cep­tion for Congress, since ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans on the ex­changes will not en­joy a gen­er­ous em­ployer-based sub­sidy. He also wants a leg­isla­tive fix to shine a light on law­mak­ers who let their staff stay out of the reach of Oba­macare by des­ig­nat­ing them as nonof­fi­cial.

Nor­mally, peo­ple with em­ploy­ee­based health care would not en­ter the ex­changes, but law­mak­ers ac­cepted an amend­ment to the health care law by Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can, to make sure law­mak­ers feel what Oba­macare will of­fer Amer­i­cans in the in­di­vid­ual mar­ket.

“I’m not thrilled at all,” Sen. Dan Coats, Indiana Repub­li­can, said of en­rolling. But he added, “We should have to sleep in what­ever bed we make.”

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