Q & A: What health and retirement benefits do Members of Congress get?

Jennifer writes:
The answer on Congress' salary was very straight forward. But….what kind of retirement do they get (do they pay into Social Security) and what kind of healthcare do taxpayers offer the members of Congress and how does changing the ACA affect them?

Great question!

Congressional health benefits
Before the Affordable Care Act, Congress and staffers got their health care through employer-provided insurance, the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program. During the ACA debate, the idea that members of Congress would not be subject to the exchanges became a big political issue. So, the final "ACA" (Obamacare) required lawmakers and staffers to get their insurance through the local health exchange, the District of Columbia’s small business health options program (SHOP) exchange.

For the 2017 plan year, there were 57 plan options in the gold tier on the DC SHOP. Members and staff have to choose at least the gold option to receive the employer contribution, which is figured at 72% of the weighted average of all FEHB plan premiums.  

Once a member or staffer is no longer in federal service, they have an option to enroll in an FEHB plan under Temporary Continuation of Coverage (TCC) that they pay for (like COBRA).

Want more details on the Congressional health benefits? This CRS Report has you covered.

Congressional retirement benefits
Up until 1984, federal employees (including Members of Congress) did not pay Social Security taxes or receive Social Security benefits but were instead covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Members elected after 1984 are covered by the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS).

Like other federal employees, Congressional pensions are financed through employee and employer contributions. Members pay Social Security payroll taxes equal to 6.2% Social Security taxes and contribute to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF).

Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 (with at least five years of service), age 50 (with at least twenty years of service), or at any age (after 25 years of service). "The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of
salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his
or her final salary." (CRS)

In 2015, the Congressional Research Service reported that 620 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on congressional service:

  • 344 retired under CSRS were receiving average annual pension of $74,136
  • 276 retired under FERS were receiving an average annual pension of $41,316

A member forfeits his or her pension if convicted of a felony involving:

  • bribery of public officials and witnesses;
  • acting as an agent of a foreign principal while a federal public official;
  • fraud by wire, radio, or television, including as part of a scheme to deprive
    citizens of honest services;
  • prohibited foreign trade practices by domestic concerns;
  • engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful
  • tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant;
  • racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations;
  • conspiracy to commit an offense or to defraud the United States;
  • perjury; or
  • subornation of perjury

Provisions of the AHCA and impact on Congressional health plans
The first version of the House health plan that passed last week would have exempted Congressional health plans from the changes that the bill contemplates. (The reason for this exemption was because the AHCA, as a reconciliation bill, cannot include provisions that are not under the jurisdiction of the committees assigned to it, and changes to Congressional health benefits fall under different committees). However, that exemption understandably raised some eyebrows. To remedy this, the House passed another bill just before the AHCA vote, which removes the exemption for members of Congress and staff.

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