Times Asks: Did Democrats Really Vote To Deprive Themselves of Health Insurance?

Did Democratic supporters of Obama-care just vote themselves out of health-care coverage?

Give credit to health care reporter Robert Pear's exclusive that suggests Democratic members of Congress had no idea what they were voting on when they voted for Obama-care: "Baffled by New Health Plan? Some Lawmakers Also Seem None Too Clear."

It is often said that the new health care law will affect almost every American in some way. And, perhaps fittingly if unintentionally, no one may be more affected than members of Congress themselves.

In a new report, the Congressional Research Service says the law may have significant unintended consequences for the "personal health insurance coverage" of senators, representatives and their staff members.

For example, it says, the law may "remove members of Congress and Congressional staff" from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available.

The story's text box read: "Congress members may need to go insurance shopping."

Pear got to the heart of the issue in paragraph four:

The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?

The law promises that people can keep coverage they like, largely unchanged. For members of Congress and their aides, the federal employees health program offers much to like. But, the report says, the men and women who wrote the law may find that the guarantee of stability does not apply to them.


The new exchanges do not have to be in operation until 2014. But because of a possible "drafting error," the report says, Congress did not specify an effective date for the section excluding lawmakers from the existing program.

Under well-established canons of statutory interpretation, the report said, "a law takes effect on the date of its enactment" unless Congress clearly specifies otherwise. And Congress did not specify any other effective date for this part of the health care law. The law was enacted when President Obama signed it three weeks ago.


Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, said lawmakers were in the same boat as many Americans, trying to figure out what the new law meant for them.

"If members of Congress cannot explain how it's going to work for them and their staff, how will they explain it to the rest of America?" Mr. Chaffetz asked in an interview.

Washington Post "44" blogger Ben Pershing opined, perhaps ruefully, that Pear's story was "sure to be forwarded by Republicans." Well, that would make a refreshing change from several recent Times stories eagerly forwarded by Democrats, including those in the White House.