Health Insurance Coverage for Senators

by Russ Buchanan; Updated September 26, 2017
Then-Senator Barack Obama used senators' health coverage as a model for universal care.

A byproduct of the debate over American health care reform was a heightened interest in how senators and congressmen received their health insurance. Congressional health insurance also became the topic of campaign speeches, with some politicians using it as a model for what universal care could be and others pointing out the unfairness inherent in the fact that members of Congress have such good coverage while millions of Americans have no insurance at all.

Federal Employees Health Benefits Program

All federal employees, including postal workers and members of both houses of Congress, are eligible for coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Under this program, the federal government negotiates with insurance companies to deliver the widest range of coverage and health plans, with a limit on what insurers can charge and how much profit goes to carriers. On average, federal employees pay about 25 percent of the premium, but some pay considerably more. The system is similar to other employment-based systems, but is much more complicated because each plan varies from state to state and region to region.

The Politics of Senator's Health Insurance

Senators’ health insurance has played a continuing role in America’s health care debate, with lawmakers saying that average Americans should have coverage as good as Senators' own. For example, Senator Sherrod Brown refused his insurance, saying he will not accept it until all Americans have access to affordable health insurance. During then-Senator Barack Obama’s run for the presidency, Obama claimed his plan for universal health coverage would provide everyone with access to health care as good as that which members of Congress enjoy.

Upside

Though not an ideal model for universal care, the federal health program probably would provide many Americans with more affordable and better coverage than they could get individually. Self-employed people and small businesses would benefit from such a system because the risk would be spread over such a large group of healthy and ill people that premiums would be lower. However, any program covering so many people would have such a large effect on the insurance market that it would probably be less flexible and would need more regulation.

Downside

Though the system could be used to cover some uninsured Americans, it would not address the main reason for the high number of uninsured Americans: the increasingly high cost of medical care. According to Peter V. Lee, chief executive of Pacific Business Group on Health, the federal health insurance system would be too expensive to cover everyone. Approximately 5 percent of the federal employees eligible for the program cannot afford even its lowest-priced family plan, which ran about $2,400 per year in 2007.

About the Author

A Los Angeles native, Russ Buchanan has been writing and editing for such disparate publications as “Midnight Graffiti Magazine” and “Op/Ed News.” He has been writing professionally since 1990. He attended Pierce College and California State University, Northridge.

Photo Credits

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