California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

1M Sign GOP ACA Petition, Rubio Criticizes Obama’s ACA Promotion

On Tuesday, the Senate Conservatives Fund said that more than one million opponents of the Affordable Care Act have signed an online petition that calls on Congress to refuse any federal funding that will go toward implementing the law, the Washington Times reports.

The proposal to defund the ACA has split Republicans (Howell [1], Washington Times, 9/3).

Under the plan -- spearheaded by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) -- Republicans are seeking to block any government funding resolution that includes money for further implementation of the ACA. A similar plan is circulating in the House (California Healthline, 8/26).

Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have been outspoken proponents of the plan to defund the ACA, while other prominent Republican lawmakers -- including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- have voiced concerns about the tactic. Despite those concerns, Cruz and Lee are "not relenting," according to the Times. Both have appeared in advertisements funded by SCF promoting the plan.

The petition is hosted on the website SCF said the number of signatories is an indication that there is widespread support for the plan to attempt to block the ACA through the budget process (Howell [1], Washington Times, 9/3).

GOP Lawmakers Accuse OPM of Preferential Treatment

Meanwhile, four GOP lawmakers on Tuesday accused the Office of Personnel Management of giving preferential treatment to Congress and their staffs by letting them keep their employer contribution toward health insurance premiums, the Washington Times reports.

Lee, Sen. David Vitter (La.) and Reps. Ron DeSantis (Fla.) and Phil Gingrey (Ga.) said the Obama administration has taken steps to "shield Washington insiders" from the financial effects of the ACA (Howell [2], Washington Times, 9/3).

Under the ACA, all House and Senate lawmakers and aides are required to enroll in the law's health insurance exchanges. Currently, the federal government contributes about 75% of lawmakers' and staffers' health coverage, which is provided through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

In a proposed rule released last month, OPM clarified an earlier directive stating the government will continue to contribute to lawmakers' and their staffers' premiums. The contributions will not exceed what they would have received under their current benefits plan. They will not be eligible for the subsidies available to other U.S. residents to help purchase coverage.

Several Republican lawmakers have announced that they will introduce legislation to fight this directive. Last week, Vitter and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) announced a plan to propose legislation that would reverse the ruling. DeSantis announced that he would introduce similar legislation (California Healthline, 8/27).

In a letter to OPM acting Director Elaine Kaplan, the four lawmakers wrote that OPM's directive went beyond the wording of the ACA and is therefore illegal. They wrote that the ACA "clearly... does not reconstitute government support of their present coverage under the separate Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan as payment toward the Exchange," adding, "This proposed 'fix' is exactly why the American public has a very negative impression of Congress and Washington."

Supporters of the OPM directive have said that without it, many congressional staffers would leave because they could no longer afford health coverage. Lee said that "nobody looks forward to the consequences" of overturning OPM's directive but that is not the group's chief concern. He said, "It doesn't appear to us OPM was following the law" (Howell [2], Washington Times, 9/3).

Criticizing ACA Promotion Tactics

In related news, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday accused the Obama administration of improperly using $8.7 million in federal funds to encourage U.S. residents to enroll in coverage through the ACA's health insurance exchanges, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports  (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/3).

Obama administration officials have said they need to enroll 2.7 million U.S. residents between ages 18 and 35 in the law's insurance exchanges to offset the cost of enrolling older, sicker individuals. Some observers say this age group will be "a tough sell" because they could be reluctant to purchase coverage they might rarely use.

In response, the administration has launched several outreach strategies to encourage young adults to purchase insurance coverage, such as advertising campaigns, celebrity endorsements and partnerships with national sports leagues (California Healthline, 8/26).

In the letter, Rubio called the spending a "blatant misuse of federal dollars," adding, "While the administration should be abandoning this disastrous law, instead it is imprudently and blindly promoting poor policies that will harm Americans and American businesses, and misappropriating public funds in an effort to sell bad ideas to good people" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/3).

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