By Tony Carrk | June 6, 2011
The budget proposal passed by the House of Representatives in April, which essentially ends Medicare, is proving unpopular with the American people. Some supporters attribute the poor poll numbers to a “communications challenge,” and they’ve continued to defend the proposal using arguments that better describe the Affordable Care Act, the comprehensive health reform legislation passed last year.
We’ll break down these arguments in the days ahead. The first we focus on is the claim that instead of the traditional Medicare benefit, those born after 1956 would receive “the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy” under the GOP budget. In fact, under the GOP budget proposal, Medicare beneficiaries would end up receiving a shrinking amount of support from the government, shifting more of the costs onto seniors, whereas members of Congress receive a consistent level of government support.
The Republican budget is not like members of Congress’ health plans
The Republican budget ends the guaranteed Medicare benefit for those born after 1956. In its place, beneficiaries would receive government support, or a voucher, to help purchase a private plan. The value of the voucher would increase with inflation.
But the voucher’s value would shrink over time since health care costs increase faster than inflation, thus shifting more and more costs onto beneficiaries. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that a typical 65-year-old in 2022 would pay double what they would pay under the traditional Medicare program, or $6,400 more.
This is not the kind of health plan members of Congress enjoy. Under the Federal Employee Health Benefit, or FEHB, plan, there is a consistent government contribution based on actual premiums charged in any given year.
In fact, the Center for American Progress examined this claim previously and found that had the rate of growth under the GOP Medicare proposal been applied to federal employees’ most popular health option, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard Option, federal workers, including members of Congress, with family coverage would have to pay another $3,330 for the care they enjoy today. Those with individual coverage would have to pay another $1,555.
The Affordable Care Act offers health guarantees members of Congress enjoy to millions of Americans
The Affordable Care Act is a better comparison to the kind of health care members of Congress receive. One of the Affordable Care Act’s main goals is to provide consumer protections and end some of the worst insurance company abuses for millions of Americans. Because of the law, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, drop coverage when it is needed the most, or charge people more based on gender. These are consumer protections members of Congress already enjoy in the FEHB plan. Families USA released a report outlining 14 benefits the Affordable Care Act provides that are similar to what members of Congress already enjoy. They are:
- Affordable health coverage
- Guaranteed coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions
- A right to appeal claims denied by insurers
- Protection against discriminatory premiums due to pre-existing conditions
- A complete package of health insurance benefits
- Guaranteed coverage that can’t be taken away
- A prescription drug benefit with no coverage gap
- Protection against catastrophic health care costs
- A choice of easy-to-compare health insurance plans
- Protection against unreasonable premium increases
- Fair and equal premiums for women
- Coverage for early retirees
- Access to free or low-cost preventive services
- Access to affordable care at clinics
But the Republican budget repeals the Affordable Care Act, denying these benefits and protections to millions of Americans.
The Affordable Care Act requires members of Congress to get the same kind of health coverage as everyone else
In addition to offering similar benefits that members of Congress already enjoy, the Affordable Care Act requires members of Congress to get their health coverage under health plans created under the law or that are part of the new health exchanges that will be in effect in 2014. The law states:
(i) REQUIREMENT.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, after the effective date of this subtitle, the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are— (I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act).
It is understandable why some supporters are trying to liken their plan to health coverage members of Congress enjoy given the public opposition to the Republican budget, particularly to its proposal to end Medicare as we know it. But this claim inaccurately describes the GOP budget and it actually makes the case for the Affordable Care Act since the law offers benefits similar to what members of Congress have now.
Tony Carrk is a Policy Analyst for American Progress.