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Arkansas congressional staff heading to health insurance exchanges


WASHINGTON — It’s Obamacare for all when it comes to staff working for members of the Arkansas delegation in Congress.

Arkansas lawmakers have designated their employees as “official office” staff, who can no longer participate in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. Instead, they will have to get insurance through government exchanges.

The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, requires members of Congress and their staff to participate in federal exchanges. The law, however, has been interpreted to apply to official office staff while exempting those who work for committees or leadership.

House members had until Thursday to sort it out, according to a memo by Daniel Strodel, the House’s chief administrative officer. The Senate has until Friday to determine which leadership or committee staffers are exempt.

U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., have told their staff members that no one will remain on the federal program. They will all be going to the exchange to find health coverage. U.S. Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, have put out the same message to staff.

“Congressman Cotton believes in following the law and what’s fair for Arkansans is fair for his staff. We will be going into the exchanges,” said Caroline Rabbitt, a spokeswoman for Cotton.

“The Congressman and all staff will lose their current health insurance plan and be subject to the Obamacare exchanges,” said Matt Wolking, a spokesman for Griffin.

Members of Congress and their staff can shop for insurance through DC Health Link. Open enrollment for them will run between Nov. 11 and Dec. 9, according to Strodel.

An informal survey of the Senate, conducted by Politico, found much divergence in how the law is being applied. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is leaving his leadership staff in the federal program as the Office of Personnel Management instructed.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he is following the law by putting all his staff onto the exchanges — including those working for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.

“Under the law, I had the choice with the committee staff and I decided they should be in the exchange,” Alexander told Politico.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who spearheaded the effort to apply the federal health care reform law to Congress back in 2009, said his intent was for every member of Congress and their aides to live under the law they created. The amendment, however, is being implemented differently.

As a result, Grassley told Politico that his staff on the Judiciary Committee would remain on the federal program — and avoid the Obamacare exchanges.