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By Julie Kliegman April 24, 2014

GOP challenger says Al Franken voted to exempt himself from health care law

Republican Mike McFadden claims his midterm opponent, incumbent Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., wanted to excuse himself from the health care reform’s requirement to buy insurance on the marketplace.

"What’s Minnesota gotten from Al Franken?" the narrator asks in McFadden’s April 17 TV ad "Miss," a $9,800 buy. In the background, a hockey player misses each shot he takes. "Record spending, over 40 votes for higher taxes and Franken voted for Obamacare. Then voted to exempt himself and Congress from enrolling in it. For Minnesota, it was miss after miss after miss."

McFadden’s argument gets it wrong and hinges on a technicality. PolitiFact wanted to address the topic of a congressional exemption, one we’ve taken a look at already from other Republican lawmakers.

How Congress gets its health plans

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, members of Congress chose their plans from the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. They had an employer subsidy, similar to the one an average American usually gets from a large employer.

But as the health care reform was drafted, Republicans wanted to make sure Democratic members of Congress would get a taste of their own medicine, so to speak. McFadden’s office pointed us to a 2009 amendment to the Affordable Care Act proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that called for members of Congress to buy their insurance on the marketplaces. Like most Democrats, Franken voted against that amendment.

Around the same time, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., put forward a similar provision. The main difference was that Coburn’s didn’t indicate that legislators could put their employer-provided subsidies toward marketplace plans.

Franken and other Democrats actually became sponsors on Coburn’s bill. When asked on the Senate floor if he was serious about purchasing insurance on the marketplace, Franken responded: "I talked to my wife, Franni. We have been married 34 years now. I talked to her a couple of weeks ago. I said if this passed, we should do the public option. She said, 'Absolutely.' Yes, I am perfectly serious about this.''

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The public option, envisioned as a government-backed insurance plan, didn’t make it into the final law. But Franken’s clear support of it shows he himself favored buying insurance under the new law.

When Al Franken and 59 others voted to pass the Affordable Care Act, they approved the following text:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, after the effective date of this subtitle, the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are— (I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act)."

In 2013, because Grassley’s exact wording hadn’t all been transferred to the law, there was confusion as to whether members of Congress would still receive their employer-provided subsidies when they switched plans. This is a special case, because most Americans who receive insurance from their employers were not affected by’s launch.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management cleared things up in August 2013, a couple of months before the online marketplaces opened. They confirmed that legislators would be able to use their subsidies toward their marketplace premiums if they purchased through the District of Columbia’s marketplace.

Franken purchased insurance using Minnesota’s state marketplace, MNsure, according to the Star Tribune. In doing so, he declined the employer subsidy the law allotted him and other legislators.

Our ruling

McFadden’s ad claimed Franken voted to exempt himself from enrolling in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. The senator did vote against one amendment. However, he supported a different amendment that required Congress to buy marketplace insurance, and he clearly articulated his support for the idea on the Senate floor. Now he's buying his own insurance through the Minnesota exchange and voluntarily forgoing a subsidy.

We rate this statement False.

Our Sources

Email interview with Alexandra Fetissoff, Al Franken campaign spokeswoman, April 22, 2014

Email interview with Tom Erickson, Mike McFadden campaign spokesman, April 22, 2014

McFadden for Senate, "Miss," April 17, 2014

Minnesota Public Radio, "McFadden launches hockey-themed TV ad against Franken," April 16, 2014

New York Times, "Public options for senators," Dec. 7, 2009

PolitiFact, "Health bill appears to exempt some congressional staff," March 26, 2010

PolitiFact, "Sen. Ted Cruz says Obama ‘just granted all of Congress an exception’ to Obamacare," Aug. 14, 2013

Roll Call, "Grassley frustrated by fight over his health care amendment," Sept. 26, 2013

Star Tribune, "Congress’ non-exemption from Obamacare," Dec. 7, 2013

U.S. Government Printing Office, "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," March 23, 2010

U.S. Office of Personnel Management, "OPM issues proposed rule which details how members of Congress and congressional staff will be insured through the health insurance exchanges," April 7, 2013

U.S. Senate, roll call vote 69, March 24, 2010

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GOP challenger says Al Franken voted to exempt himself from health care law

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