Senator sues OPM over health care regulations

Monday - 1/6/2014, 2:56pm EST

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has filed a lawsuit against Katherine Archuleta, the head of the Office of Personnel Management, seeking to overturn an OPM regulation that allows lawmakers and their staffs to continue receiving a government contribution toward their health insurance premiums.

Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, lawmakers and their staffs were booted from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), under which the government typically kicks in about three-quarters of the cost of federal employees' premiums. They are also required to purchase health insurance on the federal exchange.

However, even though their health coverage has migrated to the Affordable Care Act's small-business exchange, lawmakers and their staffs are still eligible for the government's premium contribution, according to a final OPM rule published in October.

Johnson contends OPM's regulations run counter to the health care law as written and amount to "special treatment" for members of Congress.

"I think it's just a basic issue of fairness," Johnson said at a Capitol Hill press conference announcing the lawsuit. "I really do believe the American people expect — and they have every right to expect — that members of Congress, the political class here in Washington, should be fully subject to all of the rules, all of the laws that Congress imposes on the rest of America. And that is not the case with the health care law and, particularly, with this Office of Personnel Management ruling."

Johnson's lawsuit draws criticism

Johnson filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. OPM referred comment on the lawsuit to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Johnson's proposal has already drawn sharp criticism, from other lawmakers, notably Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a fellow Wisconsin Republican.

Sensenbrenner said the government contribution for lawmakers' heath coverage is akin to the contributions that most private-sector employees receive from their employer-sponsored health coverage.

"Success in the suit will mean that Congress will lose some of its best staff and will be staffed primarily by recent college graduates who are still on their parents' insurance," he said in a statement.

This isn't the first time political controversy has swirled around lawmakers' health options. During the 16-day government shutdown in October, one of the Republican measures introduced to reopen the government would have nixed the government contribution for lawmakers and their staff members. The House overwhelmingly approved the measure, but it was handily rejected by the Senate.

Earlier, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked a vote on confirming Archuleta to head the personnel office until the agency clarified how lawmakers and their staff would be treated under the health care law. Coburn lifted the hold on her nomination after the agency issued draft regulations in August.

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