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Congress, staff required to use D.C. health exchange

Then-Democratic congressional candidate, now Rep. Tim Bishop, is

Then-Democratic congressional candidate, now Rep. Tim Bishop, is shown speaking in Islandia. (Nov. 2, 2013) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON -- Democrats representing Long Island in Congress are getting a taste of their own medicine: The Affordable Care Act they passed requires them to use an insurance exchange to sign up for federal health insurance by the end of the year.

But they won't be alone. All or most of their staff members also must give up their policies from the Federal Employees Health Benefit program and go shopping for new coverage on the locally operated Washington, D.C., health insurance exchange website.

Only Rep. Pete King of Seaford, who voted against Obamacare as Long Island's lone Republican congressman, will avoid the exchange. But that's only because he said he's covered by his retired wife's policy, not a federal insurance plan.

The requirement that members of Congress and their personal staff use the exchanges was added to the health care law by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) before the law was enacted in 2010.

The federal government, as their employer, will continue to contribute 72 percent of their premiums, according to the Office of Personnel Management's guidance on the shift.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), who is battling lung cancer, will sign up on the exchange, their aides said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hasn't made a final decision about his health insurance for next year, said spokesman Max Young.

"Because the ACA mandates that senators lose access to their current insurance plans, Sen. Schumer and his family will review their health care options during the exchange open season," Young said.

All staff members of King, Bishop, Israel and McCarthy will make the switch to the exchange, aides said.

But Gillibrand and Schumer have exempted some of their staff, which federal rules allow them to do, aides said.

"The vast majority of our staff will enter the exchange, but a small number of employees who do committee work will stay in their current plans," said Bethany Lesser, spokeswoman for Gillibrand.

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