With the passage of the “Healthcare Act,” many people are talking about the role of Congress and the President in participating in healthcare reform. There seems to be a misconception that representatives, senators and the President are able to vote themselves very beneficial healthcare plans, do not pay into Social Security and receive hefty pensions even if they serve only a few years. While there is some factual basis to these accusations, for the most part they are completely misrepresented. The benefits available to the President and to the members of Congress are clearly outlined for anyone who would like to investigate them, and understanding the truth about the healthcare benefits available to these individuals will give a clearer picture of the implications of the healthcare bill.
Healthcare for the President while in Office
First, the President, while in office, has access to treatment by military hospitals and doctors as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. His family, as his dependents, also shares in this benefit. In the past, when Presidents have been sick or injured in office, they have almost always been treated at military hospital establishments. The cost of this treatment is borne by the taxpayers as part of the military budget appropriated by Congress.
Health Insurance for the President after his term
However, once the President leaves office, this may change. The President is afforded a set pension amount for his services, regardless of whether he served one or two terms. The amount of this pension, currently, is $199,700 per year, or a little less than 50% of an active President’s salary. The President receives this amount for life. The President is free at this point to choose privatized healthcare by paying health insurance premiums through the same carriers available to federal employees and will receive premium prices comparable to those employees. The President may also choose to purchase private health insurance from another company at his own expense. The one benefit the President and his family receive is the option to continue to receive treatment at military hospitals and healthcare provider locations, just as veterans are eligible for these services. This applies whether or not the President actually served in the armed forces, by right of being Commander-in-Chief for at least four years.
Health Insurance for Members of Congress
Congress, however, has a different proposition. Congressional members are not afforded free military healthcare unless they are veterans in their own right. Their families are not eligible for benefits, either. Congressional members do receive a pension which they can use toward the purchase of federal employee healthcare coverage options. However, contrary to popular belief, representatives and senators do not receive this pension for life immediately after serving two years in the House or six in the Senate. Just as with most private pension funds, the Congressional pension fund requires members to attain an age of 50 before drawing a pension if they have 20 years of service. Otherwise, they must wait until age 62 to draw. With 25 years of service, they can draw immediately upon retiring. The amount of the pension, unlike the President’s, is based on years of service, and is not a set amount. By law, Congressional members cannot draw more than 80% of the average of their three greatest years of salary in the form of a pension.
Congress is free to purchase healthcare insurance with some of these pension funds, but the terms will be the same as with any other private insurance company. Until 1984, Congress did not pay into Social Security, instead having their retirement withholdings deposited into a federal employee retirement fund. However, any Congressional representative or senator elected since 1983 has paid into Social Security, and therefore is eligible for Medicare benefits.
Can you believe what you read?
The myths surrounding the President’s and Congress’s healthcare benefits probably stems from dislike of the proposed healthcare changes and the bill encompassing them. This argument, however, belongs in the arena of political debate, and false propaganda will only contribute to misunderstanding. While it is true that the healthcare bill is fraught with many problems and inconsistencies, “unfair” treatment of the President and Congress is not truly a large factor in this bill. In fact, it is more likely that there will be states eventually allowed to “opt out” of the healthcare plan, meaning that those citizens will be less affected by the changes than the President and Congress.
Currently, the President has healthcare through military coverage. When he retires, he will be eligible to continue that benefit or to opt for private insurance. He will not receive special benefits which are unavailable to other members of the public. The President and his family members are, also the only individuals eligible for “free” medical coverage during the term of his presidency; members of Congress do not share in this benefit.
Learn about Health Insurance for Members of Congress