A D.C. judge has dismissed a lawsuit that claimed Congress overstepped its bounds when it allowed lawmakers and staff to enroll in an Obamacare exchange set up for small employers in the nation’s capital.
Superior Court Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. said federal regulations issued by the Obama administration permitted denizens of Capitol Hill to take advantage of the insurance portal.
In 2010 Congress decided that lawmakers and staff who want insurance from their federal jobs should enter the exchanges it set up for regular Americans under the Affordable Care Act.
The administration issued regulations in 2013 that designated the D.C. small business exchange, or “SHOP,” as the go-to exchange for congressional lawmakers and staff who wanted to retain a federal employer subsidy that covers about three-quarters of their premiums.
But Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm, sued the D.C. exchange on behalf of city resident Kirby Vining, saying it knowingly accepted the premise that Congress is a small business, even though it employs thousands.
In court papers, the exchange said federal regulations trumped their authority.
Judge Dixon agreed, noting the provision demanding Congress’ participation in the exchange was vague enough to permit the current scheme.
The language can be “interpreted as either requiring members of Congress and their staff to purchase health plans via only the individual exchange or prohibiting those same members and their staff from purchasing a health plan via the small business exchange,” he wrote.
City officials applauded the decision.
“With this decision, members of Congress and their staff will be able to continue to purchase affordable health insurance through the District’s Health Benefit Exchange Authority,” D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine said. “The court issued a correct ruling under the law, and it is an appropriate decision that promotes the health and welfare of our community.”
Congress’ personal relationship with Obamacare has been a controversial one from the beginning.
Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, has made it a personal mission to make sure every member of Congress enters the exchanges and does not exempt any staff members.
He said they should not receive a federal subsidy above what everyday Americans get on the exchanges, and that executive branch officials should also be required to get covered through Obamacare.
Mr. Vitter also launched an investigation into how the Office of Personnel Management decided that Congress could use the city’s exchange.
He told OPM Director Katherine Archuleta that he will stand in the way of Earl L. Gay’s nomination to deputy director until he gets “thorough and complete” response to his inquires.
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
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