Did Congress really lie on the forms it used to set up its own Obamacare coverage?
That’s a question that needs to be answered, according to a filing in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
The brief, from the Washington watchdog Judicial Watch, asks for an order for further proceedings at the district court level on claims that tens of thousands of congressional staff members are getting coverage through an exchange set up only for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
The case challenges the expenditure of municipal funds on the Small Business Exchange to allow Congress, its staff members and their dependents to get health-care coverage.
Judicial Watch claims that a lower court decision – that the plaintiff, Kirby Vining, didn’t have standing to bring the complaint – should be overturned.
“I am doubly disturbed by what members of Congress and their staff have done here,” said Vining in a statement to Judicial Watch, “both because this program was designed to provide benefits for small businesses, businesses that form the spine of our economy and society, but also because Congress has chosen to claim eligibility to participate in this program, claiming to be a ‘small business.’ Congress authored the law, and is going to rather questionable lengths to avoid compliance with the law it drafted.”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton called it an “abuse of district taxpayers to use D.C. funds to subsidize illegal health insurance for Congress.”
“It is unlawful and unethical for district officials to use local dollars to participate in Congress’s Obamacare fraud,” he said. “The highest court in the District of Columbia must affirm the right of district taxpayers to protect their monies from being misappropriated by corrupt district officials.”
The action alleges congressional staffers and their dependents are getting coverage through the District of Columbia Health Benefit Exchange Authority.
But the claim is that the exchange is limited to small businesses with 50 employees or fewer.
The original complaint charges government officials evaded the restriction by lying on the applications.
Copies of the applications were obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request. They show the House and Senate claimed to have only 45 employees each.
A box is checked on the forms next to the confirming statement, “I attest that I employ 50 or fewer full time equivalent employees.”
But Judicial Watch notes Congress employs upward of 20,000 people.
“The applications also falsely state that the House and Senate are ‘local/state governments,'” Judicial Watch said when the case developed.
The case charges: “Since November 2013, the Exchange Authority has allowed the U.S. House of Representatives (‘the House’) and the U.S. Senate (‘the Senate’) (collectively ‘Congress’) to use the Small Business Exchange to provide health insurance to members of Congress, certain congressional staffers, and their spouses and dependents.”
It says that when Congress applied to participate in the Small Business Exchange, representatives “falsely asserted that the House and the Senate each employ 50 or fewer full-time employees.”
“Specifically, records provided by the Exchange Authority in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show that both the House and the Senate falsely claimed that they each employ only 45 full-time employees.”
Last winter, the district government “admitted that the law does not allow for Congress to obtain benefits on the exchange, but also argued that the Office of Personnel Management could override the district’s law,” Judicial Watch said.
The new filing explains that district municipal funds continue to be spent on the exchange, which “expressly limits participation to employers with 50 or fewer employees.”
“Defendants have allowed at least 12,359 congressional employees and their spouses and dependents to obtain health insurance” through the plan, it alleges.
The exchange, however, was created by the council in Washington “to help small businesses operating in the District of Columbia provide health insurance to their employees.”
“Allowing Congress to participate in the Small Business Exchange violates the law that created the exchange. In effect, defendants are spending ‘municipal funds’ on Congress’s health insurance,” the complaint continues.
It’s just the latest in a long series of court cases – some of which appear to be destined to continue for years – against Obamacare, which was adopted in 2010 with support only from Democrats in Congress.