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Congress to use D.C. small-group exchange

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The managers of the District of Columbia small-group health insurance exchange have signed Congress as a client.

Congress will be shifting its members and their employees into the DC Health Link Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchange, from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

The National Association of Health Underwriters has been helping the D.C. exchange run its broker training program.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires members of Congress and their staff members to get their employee health benefits from the new public exchange system starting in 2014, rather than from the regular federal benefits program.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is preparing to include that decision a final rule to be published in the Federal Register Wednesday. The final rule is based on a draft released in August.

OPM officials decided to exempt congressional retirees from the shift into the exchange system, but they left the rest of the draft regulation unchanged.

OPM officials reported in a preamble to the final rule that they received about 60,000 comments on the draft. About 59,000 dealt with coverage for abortion services.

About 51,000 asked Congress to offer plans that cover abortion services.

OPM believes federal law now prohibits it from offering health plans that cover abortion services, officials say in the preamble.

The exchange system is separate from the federal government, and it can offer plans from insurers that include abortion services benefits in the benefits package, officials say.

Members of Congress and their employees who get that coverage through an exchange must pay for the coverage with special accounts set up in such a way that no federal funds go to pay for the abortion coverage, officials say.

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