Judge hears arguments in health care lawsuit

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 7, 2014 at 8:14 pm •  Published: July 7, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin senator on Monday argued that his lawsuit challenging rules that call for congressional members and their employees to seek government-subsidized health insurance through small-business exchanges should be allowed to move forward.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, an Oshkosh Republican, contends the rules twist the Affordable Care Act to ensure senators, representatives and their staffers continue to receive generous health insurance subsidies and place them above the American people. Government attorneys contend Johnson lacks standing to sue because he hasn't shown how the rules have hurt him or his health care coverage. They have asked U.S. District Judge William Griesbach to dismiss the lawsuit.

Republicans tucked provisions into the Affordable Care Act that state the only health care plans the federal government can offer to congressional members and staffers must come through an exchange. The mandate means senators, representatives and their employees must leave their old government health plan, which subsidized 75 percent of their premiums through tax-free contributions.

President Barack Obama's administration adopted rules in October preserving the subsidies if congressional members and staffers go through the small-business exchanges. The rules state the members must decide which staffers are eligible for the exchanges.

Johnson's lawsuit takes issue with the subsidies and with his staffers getting their insurance through the small-business exchanges.

"Congress wanted to make sure we were in the same position as any American," Johnson told reporters before Monday's court hearing. "No special treatment. (But) there's a perception Congress is getting special treatment."

Johnson's attorney, Rick Esenberg, argued during the hearing that the rules have inflicted multiple injuries on Johnson. He must participate in what he considers to be an illegal scheme to use small-business exchanges even though members and staff work for a huge employer in the federal government, Esenberg said. And he faces the perception that Congress is above regular people who can't get such generous subsidies through the exchanges, Esenberg said.