Bill to Address Family Glitch Introduced in the Senate

By Joe Touschner

The family glitch is well known to many Say Ahhh! readers:  Children and spouses of workers are barred from subsidies to purchase health insurance if employer coverage for the worker is deemed affordable and is offered—at any price—to the family.

CCF, along with other organizations, encouraged the Treasury Department back in 2011 to interpret the law in a common sense way.  We argued that the affordability of employer coverage for family members should be assessed based on the actual cost of covering all of them, not only on the cost of covering one member of the family.  But the final regulations on the question included the family glitch.

Now Senator Franken has introduced legislation that would add clarifying sections to the law.  The bill acknowledges in a “sense of Congress” provision that the Administration could address the issue on its own without legislation.  But since the Administration has not, so far, moved to fix the glitch, the bill would clarify that children and spouses should have the affordability of their coverage offers calculated based on the full employee cost of family coverage rather than on just the worker’s self-only premium.

The family glitch has already forced many families to make hard choices regarding their coverage, likely including leaving some children without coverage.  The Government Accountability Office estimated that the glitch would leave nearly a half million children uninsured, or possibly many more depending on the future of CHIP. And it has left consumer assisters at a loss to explain to families the reasoning behind this policy. So it’s good to see policymakers taking steps to address the problem.