Suing over changes to Congress' health coverage

By Henry C. Jackson
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican senator has sued to stop the government from paying most of the medical insurance premiums for members of Congress and their aides who are now required to obtain coverage through the new health care law’s state exchanges.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Green Bay, Wis., challenging a September ruling by the Office of Personnel Management.

The agency ruled that lawmakers and their staffs should continue to receive health care benefits covering about 75 percent of their premium costs after leaving the health insurance program for federal workers.

Johnson said the OPM ruling on the application of President Barrack Obama’s health care overhaul to lawmakers and their aides amounted to special treatment for Congress: “It’s a basic issue of fairness,” he said.

The lawsuit marks a new front in some Republicans’ attempt to stop what they say is a special carve-out for political elites in the Affordable Care Act.

Last year, Johnson joined other Republicans in backing an effort by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to halt federal contributions toward health coverage for members of Congress, their staffs and other political appointees in the federal government.

The health care overhaul law sometimes referred to as “Obamacare” requires members of Congress and their staffs to leave the federal health plan and buy insurance through exchanges created by the law. But only low-income Americans are eligible for subsides on the exchanges.

The federal subsidies that members of Congress and their staff currently receive are in line with those paid by most private employers and are the same as other federal employees who are continuing in the federal plan.

But Johnson argues that they were not specifically detailed in the health care law and therefore are illegal.

“This lawsuit is about enforcing the law,” Johnson said at a Capitol press conference on Monday.

Johnson was joined by his lawyers, Paul Clement, who argued against the Affordable Care Act in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Rick Esenberg, the founder, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

They would be paid through a mix of personal funds and Johnson’s campaign fund, Johnson said.

According to the lawsuit, the OPM ruling “does not treat members of Congress and their staffs like members’ constituents. Instead, it puts them in a better position by providing them with a continuing tax-free subsidy.”

The lawsuit could take months or even years to move through the legal system. Johnson said he filed in Wisconsin because that is where he lives.

Democrats have criticized Republican efforts to kill the subsidy for lawmakers and their aides, saying it is petty and political.

Johnson also came under immediate criticism from a fellow Republican.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin called Johnson’s lawsuit an “unfortunate political stunt.”

All Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, Sensenbrenner said, but the lawsuit “takes public attention away from how bad all of Obamacare really is and focuses it on a trivial issue.”