GREEN BAY (AP) – Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson filed a lawsuit in January challenging federal rules that call for congressional members and staff to seek insurance through small business health care exchanges and provide them with hefty government subsidies.
U.S. District Judge William Griesbach held a hearing Monday in Green Bay on government attorneys’ request to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of standing. Griesbach listened to arguments for an hour and 15 minutes but concluded the proceeding without issuing a decision. It’s unclear when he may rule.
Here are a few things to know while Griesbach weighs what to do next:
THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT AFFECTS CONGRESS. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, inserted language into the ACA that requires congressional members and their staffers to move off the federal employee health care plan and into an exchange, an online marketplace where people can purchase private insurance. The move was designed to put members of Congress and their staff into the same situation as uninsured Americans. The old federal plan provided tax-free subsidies covering about 75 percent of employee premiums. But their salaries are too high to qualify for government subsidies for exchange users.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S ADMINISTRATION PUBLISHED RULES PRESERVING THE SUBSIDIES. Fearing staffers couldn’t afford to cover their premiums and would leave Capitol Hill, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management published rules last year preserving lawmaker and staffer subsidies if they go through small business exchanges.
JOHNSON CONTENDS LAWMAKERS AREN’T ELIGIBLE FOR SMALL BUSINESS EXCHANGES AND THE SUBSIDIES WILL ANGER CONSTITUENTS. Johnson, a Republican, maintains in his lawsuit that congressional members and staffers aren’t eligible for the small business exchanges because the federal government is a gigantic employer. He also argues constituents who don’t enjoy such huge subsidies will resent lawmakers.
REPUBLICANS SAY OBAMA IS ACTING LIKE A KING. Johnson has accused the president of acting like a king, unilaterally rewriting the act. In addition to the OPM rules, the GOP says, the administration has postponed requirements that employers supply workers with health insurance and extended subsidies to people who obtain insurance through federally established exchanges even though the act says only those who go through state-built exchanges are eligible for help. Johnson says Obama can’t change the law by “executive fiat.”
THE GOVERNMENT COUNTERS THAT JOHNSON ISN’T SUFFERING. U.S. Justice Department attorneys say Johnson lacks standing to bring the lawsuit because he hasn’t shown how the rules have hurt him or his health care coverage.