- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2015

Sen. David Vitter will ask his committee this week to authorize a subpoena against the D.C. health exchange, turning up the heat in his lengthy quest to find out who allowed Congress to use the city’s small-business Obamacare portal.

A draft agenda circulated Friday says the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship will vote whether to force D.C. Health Link to produce unredacted pages from Congress’ application to use the exchange, or “SHOP,” that the District set up for its small businesses.

For months Mr. Vitter, Louisiana Republican and committee chairman, has tried to find out who signed the application papers at House and Senate personnel offices, although D.C. officials argue privacy laws have compelled them to black out the names.

“The goal of this investigation is to find out who authorized the decision to allow Congress — which employs nearly 16,000 people — to join Obamacare as a ‘small business’ and receive a special taxpayer-funded subsidy that is not available to the rest of America,” Mr. Vitter said. “We are seeking accountability within the body that creates this nation’s laws and moving forward with the subpoena process in a transparent manner.”

Since no Democrats are likely to approve the subpoena, Mr. Vitter’s office said it will need all 10 committee Republicans to get on board at its business meeting Thursday.

Mr. Vitter has become a chief critic of the Affordable Care Act and how Congress has treated itself under the law, which required members of Congress and their staffers who want insurance through their jobs to join the same health exchanges the law imposed on millions of other Americans.

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In particular, he objects to Congress paying 75 percent of the premiums for lawmakers and aides — a benefit unavailable to other exchange customers.

The Office of Personnel Management decided in late 2013 that members and staff must use the D.C. small-business exchange if they want to retain their employer subsidies.

Mr. Vitter says it made little sense to treat Capitol Hill’s sprawling campus like a small business.

A conservative watchdog group made similar claims in a lawsuit, although a judge tossed the complaint in February, saying the arrangement was permissible under the health care law and federal rule making.

The D.C. exchange, though, said the senator is asking them to violate their own privacy policy. It has said it is “bound by federal law to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) that it obtains as part of the individual and employer application process.”

It noted the federal government, in its implementation of HealthCare.gov, “specifically considers information collected from the employer as part of the application process, such as the names and contact information (including email and phone numbers) of the employer’s point of contact, as PII.”

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Mr. Vitter has rejected those explanations, arguing Congress is a public entity and not a small employer that may apply to the exchange in the first place.

Overall, Congress is walking a fine line between the political optics of Obamacare and pleasing their staff members, many of whom don’t want to give up their insurance under the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program.

Fearing good staffers would leave, some lawmakers designated only some of their employees as “official.” Workers who aren’t deemed official are still allowed to keep their old coverage, which is considered generous.

At Mr. Vitter’s insistence, Senate Republicans voted in December to require all of their staffers to sign up for insurance on the health care exchanges.

House Republicans, however, rejected a similar move.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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