How About MEDICAID For Members?
The Twitterverse exploded with outrage today, following last night’s Politico story indicating that congressional leadership have engaged in secret conversations attempting to craft an Obamacare waiver for Members of Congress and/or their staffs. As with the rest of Obamacare, the problem lies in the botched way the legislation was enacted — drafted in secret, then rammed through Congress on a party-line vote. Harry Reid drafted this particular section of the bill behind closed doors; Senator Grassley later offered an amendment clarifying the provisions, but Democrats defeated it three years ago. (Text of the Grassley amendment available here; my summary of the amendment here; Senate floor vote here). So there’s one important principle at play: Having rammed the bill through while claiming that reading the bill was a waste of time, because we had to act “real fast” and didn’t have two lawyers over two days to understand the legislation, Democrats now want to exempt themselves from the mess they created. As we’ve said before, you break it, you own it.
But there’s another important principle as well regarding Members’ health coverage, and the ongoing state-level debate regarding Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid: How many state legislators who want to expand Medicaid FOR OTHERS want to go on Medicaid THEMSELVES? We know the answer to this question at the federal level — Sen. LeMieux offered a “Medicaid for Members” amendment in March 2010, which received not a single vote from Senate Democrats. (Text of the amendment here; my summary here; Senate floor vote here.) In 2009, Rep. Henry Waxman publicly admitted that “it is highly unlikely that you are going to find millionaires who would like to go on Medicaid.” In other words, Medicaid provides such inferior coverage that millionaires — and wealthy Members of Congress — wouldn’t dream of enrolling in it themselves, but have no qualms about putting low-income individuals on this “insurance.”
So to the original story: The root problem is not that Congress drafted the law sloppily — although that did happen in spades. The problem is that not enough individuals have been exposed to Obamacare’s underlying flaws. Because it’s easy to see how requiring federal and state representatives to go on Medicaid themselves would make many legislators much less enthusiastic about expanding “coverage” under Obamacare.