TAR HEEL VIEW: Trump should close Obamacare loophole, end Congress’ perks

President Donald Trump can’t reform the nation’s health care system unilaterally, but there’s one thing he can do — end Congress’ free ride.

As yet another attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act appears destined to die on the operating table, the time has come for Trump to send a message by closing the loophole that allows senators and representatives to receive taxpayer-subsidized health insurance despite an Obamacare provision requiring Congress to buy coverage on the federal insurance marketplace.

Conservative legal group Judicial Watch is urging the Trump administration to act even as its taxpayer lawsuit works its way through the courts. A civil complaint before the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia alleges that congressional Obamacare subsidies are unlawful.

“Congress, through fraud, is violating Obamacare to get taxpayers to pay for its health insurance,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “If the Trump administration required Congress to follow the law, taxpayers would be saving money, pure and simple. We hope the Trump administration will end this clear violation of law by Congress.”

A safety valve built into the ACA required members of Congress and their staffs to participate in the health insurance exchanges. In theory, this would ensure quality control since steep hikes in health premiums would squeeze the folks on Capitol Hill, triggering swift corrective action.

Instead, the Obama-era Office of Personnel Management invented a workaround that insulated elected officials from volatile price swings and made citizens, not Congress, the law’s canaries in the coal mine.

An OPM federal regulation authorized congressional employees to buy insurance plans from the D.C. small-business exchange and provides for hefty subsidies that artificially reduce their premiums.

In order to qualify for the small-business exchange, a company must have 50 or fewer full-time employees. Through Freedom of Information Act requests, Judicial Watch obtained applications filed on behalf of the House and Senate claiming each legislative body has just 45 workers.

“Congress employs upwards of 20,000 people,” the group notes. “The applications also falsely state that the House and Senate are ‘local/state governments.’”

Insurance costs are soaring and Congress has a duty to act. Perhaps parts of Obamacare, including the requirement that insurance companies accept those with pre-existing conditions, could be salvaged in a bipartisan compromise.

Senate leader Mitch McConnell can’t corral his caucus behind a market-driven conservative reform, and we’ve seen no evidence that a middle-of-the-road solution both Democrats and Republicans can support is in the pipeline.

The status quo is unacceptable, but senators aren’t adequately motivated to effect change because they aren’t feeling the pinch like their constituents are.

Trump has flirted with pulling the perk, tweeting on July 31 that Congress should be paying what the public pays. After still more legislative logjams, it’s time to hold their feet to the fire.

No exemptions, no loopholes and no special treatment. Let Congress live under the law it passed until its members see fit to address health care reform in a meaningful way.

The Wilson Times