Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Health Care Benefits for Congress

Patrick requested a few weeks ago that I dig into the benefits of our elected officials in Congress and the Senate. I do my best to honor requests from readers for different topics. Here is what I have found:

The first thing to remember is that Representatives and Senators are technically federal employees. As such, they get all the benefits of a typical federal employee, plus a few for being in the Legislature. Federal employees receive their salary and benefits from tax payer dollars. The starting salary for a member of Congress or the Senate is $174,000.00 per year, with the leaders of these bodies making more. In 2008, tax payers paid $15 Million to provide benefits for 8.5 Million federal employees. Obviously, this includes employees who aren't elected as well as those who are elected. Representatives are also covered from day one. There is no exemption for a preexisting condition, and there is no waiting period for enrollment.

Our elected officials also get a number of plans to choose from. The federal benefits site is a little tricky to navigate. It appears that members can decide between 10 to 12 plans, or any insurance plan available in their home state. The benefits site has a map that members can click on to see a list of the plans available. As with any insurance, there are monthly premiums. However, again remember since their salary is paid by tax dollars, so are these premiums.

One of the benefits Representatives and Senators have that other federal employees don't have is access to their own doctors and pharmacy. From a February 2008 issue of the St. Petersburg Times:

Members of Congress have their own pharmacy, right in the Capitol. They also have a team of doctors, technicians and nurses standing by in case something busts in a filibuster. They can get a physical exam, and X-ray or an electrocardiogram, without leaving work...These are optional perks that cost about $300 a month for House members and about $600 a month for Senators. Taxpayers kick in another $2-million.

And once again, the $300 to $600 a month is a payroll deduction, meaning its paid for with taxpayer dollars. As a final perk, the Stimulus package from President Obama adds an additional perk in for federal employees. I am not sure how this stimulates the economy, but quoting from the federal benefits site:

The American Reovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, enacted February 17, 2009, provides a new health insurance opportunity for former employees who were or are involuntarily terminated between Septemeber 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009. Under this new law, former Federal employees may request premium assistance for thier temporary continuation of coverage (TCC) under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program. Premium assistance means your former agency will make a Government contribution of 65 percent of the TCC premiums for your FEHB plan enrollment.

One Representative in Congress has refused health care coverage. In the recent bills that have been introduced, there have been a few mentions of forcing members of Congress and the Senate to switch to any public option they include in a final bill. So far, that has failed in House versions, and squeaked by in a Senate version. I would imagine it would be stripped if these bills made it to conference. Congressman John Fleming (Republican, Louisiana) has started a petition to get members of Congress enrolled in any health care insurance plan passed and signed into law. You can view his site and sign the petition here. Our Founders believed that members of the Legislature would be bound by any laws they passed, thereby giving them a stake in the effects of those laws. This was a good idea at the time, and an excellent one today. I will be convinced that our elected officials think the public option they include in a bill is a good thing when they are willing to force themselves into the bill.


Patrick said...


Thanks for humoring me and posting this. At least now I know what people are talking about when they speak of Congress' health plan.

A vast majority of the items discussed in the post, I have no problem with. Though tax payers dollars ultimately pay for everything the Members of Congress get for healthcare, it operates the way anyone's healthcare plan does. It's not like each member doesn't pay for those optional perks out of pocket. There take-home pay is less the optional healthcare premium.

Larger corporations have healthcare plans for their employees which vary by State, so isn't it fair to say Congress could do the same? (My company has varying plans depending on whether or not you live in Florida.)

As for the in-house pharmacy, corporations like Eli Lilly and Google have such things on their respective campuses. The larger corporations offer perks like this.

Now, not everyone in America has these perks at their discretion, but many do. It's a question of who well you want the leaders of our country to be treated. If you think the Congressmen are paid too much, then let's save that for another argument. But their healthplans are pretty comparable to most larger corporations in my opinion.

However, I do think that they should have to take the public option if they make the general public do the same.

Andy D said...

You are more than welcome. I take requests very seriously. As a side note, this post had a record number of views for my site yesterday, so really I should be thanking you.

In all honesty, I don't disagree with anything you say in your comment. I only get mad when Congress decides to foist a health care system on the public that they won't be members of. If the system is a good system, they should be made members of it so that they actually have a stake in whether the system works or not. It's easy to force others into a new health care system when it won't affect you or your family.

pack04 said...

What!? I understand the reasons for forcing congress into the healthcare plan but I think it is hypocritical to do so. One main complaint is that this health plan will get rid of private option and force people into the public option. So why force them into a plan that the law will force them into anyway. If you do not think the plan will force comgressmen into it then how can you argue that it will force everybody to the public option. Also, if your complaint is that you want the ability to choose your plan and not be forced into a public plan how can you turn around and try to force somebody into the plan. I am not a fan if the plan but forcing people into it seems even more in-American.

Andy D said...

It was long believed when our nation was set up that member of Congress and the Senate would be subject to whatever laws they pass. The theory was that they would have to live under whatever they force others to live under. In modern times, that hasn't always been the case.

I do believe HR 3200, as written, will force everyone into a public option in a few years. The problem is that Congress is very good at writing exemption clauses for themselves. I don't want to see one in this bill. The only way I know to make sure they live under the legislation they write, is to have them live under it from day one.