The decisions were layered with Washington political logic that inspired many congressional leaders, Republicans and Democrats, to put all of their aides on the exchanges.
House Speaker John Boehner and all four Senate Republican leaders are among them, putting their entire staffs into the exchanges created by a law they loathe. That allows them to slam Democrats, the new health care law's chief defenders, who are keeping leadership and committee aides on the federal health insurance program.
"If these staffers aren't 'official,' then the taxpayer shouldn't pay for their salaries or office support or anything else," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., announcing legislation to force each congressional office to disclose the designation for each aide.
Many Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are nullifying the hypocrisy charge by requiring all of their aides to get health insurance on an exchange.
But there are others.
Keeping the federal program for all of their staffers are House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., their spokesmen said.
And in the Senate, Democrats are split — and some are coy — about who's "official" and who's not.
"Me and my official staff are going into the D.C. exchange," Mikulski said Thursday, the deadline for deciding. She's the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, so she's got lots of staffers who aren't necessarily "official."
"The overwhelming majority of employees will be going on the exchanges," said Matt House, spokesman for Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is in the Senate Democratic leadership. He declined to elaborate.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would only say that the Nevada Democrat is "following the law."
It all started with Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley and his amendment to Obama's health care law that would have required members of Congress and staffers to get the health coverage offered through the exchanges.