Back in June Anne Kim and I reported on an effort by Sens. Mark Pryor and Chris Coons to “fix” an unintended problem with implementation of the Affordable Care Act affecting church-sponsored health plans:
Without the requested “fix,” as many as one million clergy members and church employees now enrolled in church-sponsored health plans could soon face the choice of leaving these plans (designed to meet their unique needs, such as the frequent reassignment of clergy across state lines) or losing access to the tax subsidies provided by the ACA to help lower-to-middle income Americans purchase insurance.
Observers generally agree that the exclusion of church health plans from eligibility for the exchanges, which occurred because they do not sell policies to the general public, was an oversight caused by staffers scrambling to draft bill language under tight deadlines. Because employees of religious institutions are usually paid modestly, many will qualify for subsidies made available on a sliding scale to families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. But the subsidies can only be used to purchase insurance from the exchanges.
Rodney Miller, Executive Officer-Special Counsel at GuideStone Financial Services, the provider of the Southern Baptist Convention’s church health plan, told the Washington Monthly that the purpose of the Pryor-Coons bill is “basic fairness.”
Without the “fix,” he said, clergy would be “forced out” of church plans to access the tax credits they would otherwise be entitled to receive under the law. And that in turn could threaten the viability of the plans themselves. Among the supporters of the Pryor-Coons effort are the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church. The legislation also enjoys the backing of the Church Alliance, a coalition of religious organizations represented by the firm K&L Gates.
Well, the problem hasn’t gone away, and according to TPM’s Sahil Kapur, there are no signs that congressional Republicans are responding positively to the pleas of a broad range of religious institutions for relief:
“We’re not expecting it to get a vote — at least not anytime soon,” said Coons spokesman Ian Koski. “The climate is such right now that Republicans would rather repeal the law than fix it. They’re more interested in leaving this loophole open as part of their strategy to undermine the Affordable Care Act. They can go out there now and say the Affordable Care Act is bad for churches instead of working with us to fix the problem.”
Koski also said it’s “not a far leap” to conclude that Republicans also oppose the bill because one of its lead sponsor is Pryor, a vulnerable incumbent and prime GOP target for 2014.
A request for comment to a senior Republican aide was not immediately returned.
“This is one of those situations where if you had a functional Congress, they’d be able to enact a fix,” [Washington and Lee University professor] Jost said. “But we don’t have a functional Congress so that’s not likely to happen.”
In our original piece, Anne and I referred to this issue as “a test of Republican loyalties.” So far, there’s no question they are failing it.