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Republicans Attack HHS Over 'Family Glitch' Health Rule Change

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What You Need to Know

  • Republicans may file court challenges if and when the federal government tries to implement an ACA family health benefits rule change regulation.
  • The current rule leaves some children and spouses of insured workers without either employer coverage or ACA exchange premium tax credits.
  • Ways and Means Republicans say regulators cannot change the rule by calling it a glitch.

Republicans made a new attack Tuesday on an effort by the federal government to expand access to federal health insurance premium subsidies.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., prodded the House Ways and Means Committee to debate and vote on House Resolution 1262.

The measure, a “resolution of inquiry,” would require the U.S. Department of House and Human Services to provide copies of any communications between HHS and the White House that are related to a proposed “family glitch” fix, or move to help some children and spouses of insured workers qualify for Affordable Care Act health insurance premium subsidies.

Committee members rejected the resolution by a 16-25 vote.

Buchanan used his speaking time before the vote to argue that President Joe Biden is using an unconstitutional maneuver to change a statute.

“Claiming the administration is fixing a glitch is false,” Buchanan said. “Rewriting a statute by executive action is an affront to the rule of law.”

What It Means

Republicans may file court challenges if and when the federal government tries to implement an ACA family health benefits rule change regulation.

A Coverage Gap

The Affordable Care Act. a two-law package completed in 2010, makes health insurance premium tax credit subsidies available to many moderate-income people who buy health coverage from the federal government’s HealthCare.gov program, or from state-run ACA public exchange programs.

Workers cannot qualify for ACA premium tax credit subsidies if they are offered what the federal government classifies as affordable employer-sponsored health benefits that provide coverage with a “minimum value,” or about 60% of the actuarial value of a standard “essential health benefits” benefits package.

In 2022, the federal government classifies employer-sponsored coverage as affordable if it would cost less than 9.61% of a worker’s household income.

Federal regulators announced in 2013 that the IRS would base affordability calculations only on the cost of employee-only coverage, not on the cost of family coverage. That means families that include insured workers and cannot afford employer-sponsored family coverage may not be able to qualify for ACA premium tax credit subsidies.

The term “family glitch” refers to the spouses and children’s lack of access to premium tax credits.

A resolution of inquiry is a short measure that seeks facts from part of the government. Traditionally, the House has treated resolutions of inquiry in a more relaxed fashion than bills, and parties in the minority have seen filing them as a way to get the majority party’s attention.

The New IRS Approach

Under President Biden, IRS announced in April that it would try to use a regulation to eliminate the family glitch.

The White House Office of Management Budget is reviewing the final version of the regulation and expects to post the final version by December, according to the OMB regulatory review tracking system.

The Congressional Budget Office predicted in July that the family glitch fix would increase federal spending by $44 billion, bring in $10 billion in additional revenue, and increase the federal budget deficit by $34 billion over a 10-year period.

The CBO also predicted that the measure would cut the number of people with group coverage by an average of 600,000 per year over that 10-year period; decrease the number of uninsured people by 400,000; increase the number of people with Medicaid coverage or similar coverage by 100,000; and increase the number of people with commercial individual or family coverage by 900,000.

The Republican View

Buchanan said that he believes that career lawyers at HHS were not the ones who were mainly responsible for the change, and that pressure to change the family subsidy likely came from the White House.

Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C. accused Biden of expanding the ACA with the stroke of a pen.

The Chairman’s View

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the committee chair, said one problem with the resolution was that it would not cut costs for working Americans, and that another was that it was based on an incorrect premise.

“To begin with,” Neal said, “the resolution is directed at the wrong federal agency. The Department of Health and Human Services is not in charge of interpreting the Affordable Care Act or provisions in the Internal Revenue Code. That responsibility lies solely with the Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service.”

Pictured: Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla. (Photo: House Ways and Means)