Judicial Watch Appeals to Halt D.C. Monies being Spent on Congress’ Participation on the D.C. Small Business Health Benefit Exchange
AUGUST 10, 2015
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it filed its opening brief on appeal in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, challenging the District of Columbia Health Benefit Exchange’s expenditure of municipal funds on the Small Business Exchange to allow Congress, congressional staffers and their dependents to participate in the Exchange (Kirby Vining v. Executive Board of D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority, et al. (No. 15-cv-242)). A lower court had dismissed the lawsuit on standing grounds.
The lawsuit, which names the District of Colombia Health Benefit Exchange Authority and its officials as defendants, was filed on October 15, 2014, on behalf of D.C. taxpayer Kirby Vining in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. D.C. law limits participation in the exchange to small businesses employing 50 or fewer full-time employees. Vining, a District of Columbia resident since 1986, seeks to prevent the Exchange Authority from allowing at least 12,359 members of Congress, congressional staffers, their spouses and dependents to purchase health insurance in D.C.’s Small Business Exchange.
The lawsuit first exposed fraudulent applications filed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with the D.C. Exchange Authority. The applications, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, show that the House and Senate claimed to have only 45 employees each. They also show that the House and Senate attested to having “50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees.” Congress employs upwards of 20,000 people. The applications also falsely state that the House and Senate are “local/state governments.” The “electronic signature” section of the application includes the following language:
I’ve provided true and correct information to all the questions on this form to the best of my knowledge. I know that if I’m not truthful, there may be a penalty.
The actual names of the signatories were blacked out by the D.C. Exchange in the documents Judicial Watch obtained. The taxpayer lawsuit seeks to prevent at least $77 million in District funds from being used to help Congress violate the restrictions imposed on it by the Obamacare law. The fraudulent Obamacare applications filed by Congress resulted in an U.S. Senate investigation led by Senator David Vitter (R-LA). (Separately, Judicial Watch, Citizens Against Government Waste, and eight other public interest groups filed an ethics complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee.)
On January 7, 2015, the D.C. 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. The case was dismissed on February 25, 2015, despite the continued fraudulent use of D.C. monies to provide special health benefits to Congress.
In its appeal, Judicial Watch argues that the D.C. Exchange Authority has knowingly allowed Congress to participate in the Small Business Exchange, despite the fact that Congress employs thousands of individuals:
Since November 2013, the Exchange Authority has allowed the U.S. House of Representatives … and the U.S. Senate … to use the Small Business Exchange to provide health insurance to some (but not all) congressional employees, including members of Congress and these employees’ spouses and dependents … At all relevant times, Defendants have known that the House and the Senate were participating in the Small Business Exchange to provide health insurance to some (but not all) congressional employees … As of February 9, 2014, at least 12,359 congressional employees and their dependents had obtained health insurance through the Small Business Exchange. These 12,359 persons represent approximately 86 percent of the 14,289 persons enrolled in the Small business Exchange between October 1, 2013 and September 9, 2014.
Judicial Watch also argues that in light of the district’s use of municipal funds to pay for the D.C. small business exchange, Kirby Vining, a longtime D.C. resident, has standing to file a grievance as a D.C. resident and taxpayer.
“I am doubly disturbed by what members of Congress and their staff have done here,” said Kirby Vining, “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.”
“It is an abuse of District taxpayers to use D.C. funds to subsidize illegal health insurance for Congress,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is unlawful and unethical for District officials to use local dollars to participate in Congress’s Obamacare fraud. 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.”