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Hold lifted on Senate confirmation of OPM director

Aug. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Sean Archuleta MWM 20130716
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is dropping his opposition to a final confirmation vote on Katherine Archuleta's nomination to head the Office of Personnel Management, a spokesman said Wednesday. (Mike Morones / Staff)

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is dropping his opposition to a final confirmation vote on Katherine Archuleta’s nomination to head the Office of Personnel Management, a spokesman said Wednesday. That announcement came shortly after OPM clarified that the government will continue to help pay for health insurance for members of Congress and their staffers who must begin buying coverage through state exchanges in January.

Because Congress is on break this month, however, the Senate is unlikely to take up Archuleta’s nomination until September at the earliest.

Under the 2010 health care overhaul — widely dubbed “Obamacare” — lawmakers and at least some staffers will lose coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program at year’s end and will instead have to find insurance on the exchanges.

But the law left unclear whether OPM would keep contributing up to 75 percent of the premiums’ cost, as it does for FEHBP participants. Without that contribution, lawmakers and staff could have faced thousands of dollars in yearly out-of-pocket expenses. Although a Senate committee last week approved Archuleta’s nomination, Coburn then blocked a final vote by the full Senate in an attempt to force OPM to explain its position on the issue.

In the proposed rule released Wednesday, OPM said the same FEHBP contribution standards will apply for lawmakers and staff who purchase insurance on the exchanges. Shortly after, Coburn spokesman John Hart said the senator will release his “hold” on Archuleta’s nomination.

OPM’s proposal, scheduled for publication in Thursday’s Federal Register, leaves it up to Congress to decide which staffers must leave the FEHBP. While the law requires lawmakers’ personal staff to find coverage on the exchanges, it is unclear whether the same requirements apply to staffers employed by congressional committees and House and Senate leadership offices, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The law is also silent on whether current members of Congress and their staffs can be “grandfathered’ into the FEHBP, the report said.

If confirmed, Archuleta would replace John Berry, who stepped down as OPM director in April. In the interim, General Counsel Elaine Kaplan has been leading the agency.

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