Rep. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) wrote two letters to the Obama administration Wednesday arguing that an Obamacare regulation providing subsidies to members of Congress and congressional staff is illegal.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a regulation earlier this month ruling that congressmen and their staff can receive financial help with their premiums, as they did before Obamacare went into effect.
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Obamacare requires lawmakers and their staff to purchase health insurance through the exchanges set up under the law. Before the regulation was issued, lawmakers were afraid that a sudden drop in benefits would cause many staffers to leave Capitol Hill and pursue work elsewhere with better benefits.
"There is no authority within the ACA that authorizes your agency to pay premium subsidies for Members of Congress and staff who will be enrolled in health-care exchanges under the law," Cotton wrote in a letter to the director of OPM.
The law "stipulates that individuals are not eligible for taxpayer subsidies if they receive health care from their employer and, conversely, employers cannot provide health-care payments to their employees if they are required to receive coverage on the exchanges," Cotton wrote.
As fears of the law’s impact on congressional staff mounted among lawmakers, President Barack Obama personally pledged to work to find a solution.
Cotton seized on this fact in a letter to Obama as evidence of cronyism within the administration.
"I recognize that you apparently don’t feel constrained by the law’s plain language," Cotton wrote. "Hence, you’ve granted over 1,700 insurance-plan waivers (more than half to unions), unilaterally delayed the employer mandate and out-of-pocket-cost provisions, and suspended eligibility verification for tax subsidies to individuals, to name just a few actions."
"Thus, your reported personal intervention with OPM to grant a special exception for representatives, senators, and staffers isn’t surprising," Cotton continued.
"In Congressman Cotton's view, this issue is just another example of all the problems with this terrible law," said Caroline Rabbitt, a spokeswoman for Cotton. "This move by the Obama administration is particularly appalling because it directly benefits the politically connected at the expense of hard-working taxpayers."
An OPM spokesman noted that the regulation is still open for comment, but did not comment further and instead referenced the announcement of the regulation.
The White House did not return a request for comment.
The repeated waivers and delays have raised concerns that the law will not be ready for full implementation on schedule.
The exchanges are planned to open on Oct. 1, although some states have already announced that they are delaying the opening by a couple weeks.
Healthcare experts have also raised warnings of fraud and waste. The administration delayed verification requirements for people applying for subsidies for a year, opening up the possibility of tax fraud. Security testing of the "data hub" that will transmit information between federal agencies is also reportedly behind schedule.
The administration has repeatedly asserted that the law will be ready to roll out on time.