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Oops! John Boehner's Obamacare stunt backfires

In the latest attempt by congressional Republicans to make theatrical hay out of the Affordable Care Act without actually trying to make it any better, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) tried to make a public spectacle out of his own experience signing up for a health plan.

Things didn't turn out quite the way he'd hoped. In other words, he succeeded. 

It didn't seem so, at first. Boehner said he tried several times Thursday to sign on to healthcare.gov, the troubled website that most members of Congress and their staffers will use. He claimed he got knocked off several times, understandably a frustrating experience. In the middle of the effort, he put out a news release bemoaning the difficulty. "Guess I'll just have to keep trying," he said in the release. But a couple of hours later, he succeeded in enrolling. 

Yet that's not the end of the story. The more important question is: What sort of plan did he get? His office didn't say, but Brian Beutler at Salon.com took a crack at the issue, generically, by plugging the speaker's salary ($223,500) and age (64) into healthcare.gov. Beutler didn't input one thing about Boehner's health that's well-known, which is that he's a smoker, the one condition other than age that insurers are allowed to hike premiums for.

That said, the Boehner-bot created by Beutler did pretty well with Obamacare. He was eligible for a "bronze" plan with a $6,000 annual deductible for $372.14 a month, which, as Beutler points out, is just 2% of Boehner's wages. A gold-level plan including dental coverage and no deductible would set Boehner back about $700 a month, or 3.8% of Boehner's wages.

Obamacare rules typically allow for a premium to cost no more than 9.5% of household income for lesser "silver" plans. That limit comes from premium subsidies granted to households earning up to 400% of the federal poverty line. In other words, Boehner would be way ahead of most Americans. 

That's if he's paying the entire premium himself. But he need not be: The premiums of members of Congress and their staffs are partially paid by their employer, the federal government, just as they are for employees of other large enterprises. In fact, Boehner has only his fellow Republicans to thank for his having to shop for coverage on the website at all -- the Senate GOP insisted that legislators and their staffs get their insurance from the individual exchanges in an effort to undermine passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Normally, they'd be getting coverage from the existing federal employee program, like other federal workers. 

Still, even without the employer's share of his premium, which would be about 70%, Boehner's getting a good deal. Maybe he should stop complaining about Obamacare and recognize that for most Americans in the individual insurance market, it's a plus. 

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email. MORE FROM MICHAEL HILTZIK

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