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'Special Treatment' for Congress Inspires Another Obamacare Lawsuit

DC Health Link enrollment is under attack. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

This time it's not a lawmaker , but an outside conservative group that plans to file suit over alleged "special treatment" for members of Congress enrolled in gold-level coverage plans through DC Health Link.  

Judicial Watch, the group that continues to dog the Department of Health and Human Services for more transparency about implementation of the 2010 health care law, will share details Wednesday of a "taxpayer lawsuit challenging the District of Columbia’s special treatment of Congress concerning Obamacare."  

The announcement is planned at an event at the National Press Club, where plaintiff Kirby Vining and Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton plan to join attorneys. Details are sparse. Congress accounts for more than a quarter of the 50,520 people enrolled in the D.C. health exchange, and the subsidy members and staff receive to cover premiums has been taking heat from all sides.  

DC Health Link offered private sessions to staffers in advance of the Dec. 9 open enrollment deadline, plus on-site help sessions at the Capitol with employees from Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Several staffers who worked in district offices in other parts of the country complained about the enrollment process, and those working in Washington offices experienced technical glitches .  

This is not the first suit Judicial Watch has filed related to the exchanges. In March, they filed  two lawsuits against HHS to obtain records, one of which related to security and privacy concerns surrounding the Healthcare.gov web portal.  

On August 8, they filed  a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking emails and documents involving communications to and from former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. Judicial Watch wants to know what was said about enrollment figures, performance and security testing of the site, decisions about when to make certain information publicly available, plus other FOIA requests.  

Jill Sutherland Farrell, director of Judicial Watch, declined to provide further information on the plaintiff or the nature of the lawsuit in a phone call with CQ Roll Call.  

The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has criticized the special support sessions at the Capitol and help hotlines offered to members and staff. They challenged that insurance companies provided perks in violation of congressional ethics rules.  

Members of both parties on Capitol Hill have targeted the employer contributions members of Congress receive for coverage in the D.C. health care exchange. Democratic Reps. Dan Maffei of New York, John Barrow of Georgia and Ron Barber of Arizona, want to eliminate government contributions towards their premiums through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter has also continued to offer his amendment targeting contributions for staffers.  

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