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Lawsuit targets Congress' health subsidy

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, filed a lawsuit Monday in an attempt to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and their staffs, a Milwaukee newspaper reported.

The suit against the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and its director, Katherine Archuleta, stems from a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires members of Congress and their staffs to buy health insurance on the marketplaces set up through the law, according to the Milwaukee Jounal Sentinel.

A rule issued in October by the personnel office allowed the federal government to continue to contribute to pay the cost of health benefits for members of Congress and their staffs, as it does for other federal employees, even though they would be buying health insurance on a marketplace.

In an opinion piece posted on the Wall Street Journal's website on Sunday, Johnson wrote that he was bringing the lawsuit because he believes President Barack Obama's administration "has exceeded its legal authority."

"Allowing the federal government to make an employer contribution to help pay for insurance coverage was explicitly considered, debated and rejected" in passing the Affordable Care Act, Johnson wrote.

"In doing so, Congress established that the only subsidy available to them would be the same income-based subsidy available to every other eligible American accessing insurance through an exchange. This was the confidence-building covenant supporters of the law made to reassure skeptics that Obamacare would live up to its billing," he wrote

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, backed the subsidy.

"Just like many other employees, Congressional staff receive an employer contribution toward their health care," said Shaheen spokesman Elizabeth Kenigsberg. "This isn't a practice unique to Congress, and existed long before the Affordable Care Act became law."

Jeff Grappone, spokesman for Sen. Kelly Ayotte, said Monday evening, "Senator Ayotte has voted numerous times to repeal Obamacare for everyone. She believes that the clearest way to stop the employer health insurance contribution is through legislation, and she has voted against the administration's ruling allowing health insurance contributions and will continue to do so.

"In accordance with the law, Sen. Ayotte and her staff have purchased health coverage through the Obamacare exchanges, and unless the law is changed, the employer insurance contribution continues," Grappone said.

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