By Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Senator David Vitter is continuing his investigation into congressional health care enrollment, and he was not satisfied with recent responses from the D.C. government and House and Senate officials.
The Louisiana Republican issued a statement Thursday to announce he’s giving the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority, the House Clerk and the Senate financial clerk until Feb. 24 to answer questions and provide documents regarding health care enrollment. He wants to know why members of Congress and their staffs were allowed to enroll in the D.C. small-business exchange, despite the fact Congress does not fit the definition of a small business. The original deadline was Feb. 13, but the responses to Vitter’s investigation were unsatisfactory, so he has extended the deadline.
“My investigation is centered on determining how Congress was designated as a small business in order to exempt its roughly 16,000 employees, including members, from clear requirements under Obamacare,” Vitter said in a statement. “Yet the key players involved appear unwilling to comply with a straightforward congressional request.”
In a letter sent last week to the three agencies, Vitter requested the DCHBE meet with him to discuss enrollment; that House and Senate offices disclose who directed officials to “falsify” exchange applications; that electronic copies of the applications be provided without redactions and that Congress and the district only allow small businesses to participate in the exchange.
Vitter’s request came after documents, made public as part of a lawsuit the watchdog group Judicial Watch filed against DCHBE in October, revealed the House and Senate applications claimed the institutions had 45 employees and classified them as “state/local government.” The electronic signatures, showing which congressional employees certified the applications were valid, were redacted.
DCBHE Executive Director Mila Kofman, who is a defendant in the Judicial Watch case, wrote in a letter to Vitter last week, saying she could not provide documents or information due to the ongoing lawsuit. She also wrote, “Providing enrollment applications for any of our customers would be considered a breach of trust.”
Ileana Garcia, the financial clerk of the Senate, wrote in a letter to Vitter that the Senate Disbursing Office provided data to D.C. Health Link in order to conform with the technological system that could not be altered.
“Administrative offices were instructed to use DC Health Link and understood that, due to compressed implementation time frame, system modifications to the DC Health Link system were not an option,” Garcia wrote. “As a result, it was necessary to provide data that was compatible for system processing to establish the required employer account in a timely manner.”
“[D]espite technical challenges, to the best of the Disbursing Office’s knowledge, this office, at no time in the process, provided any part misleading information,” she later added.
Vitter also demanded answers from the House Clerk, but House Chief Administrative Officer Ed Cassidy declined to provide information, arguing that Vitter’s role as Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee chairman does not give him jurisdiction over House offices. Cassidy noted that his response would likely be similar to the Senate Disbursing Office’s response to Vitter’s requests.
But Vitter was not satisfied by any of these letters. And if he does not get a satisfactory response from the agencies by next week, will there be a discussion about issuing subpoenas? “We’ll reassess after the deadline next week,” Small Business Committee spokeswoman Cheyenne Klotz said.
The investigation is a continuation of Vitter’s longstanding crusade against what he deems the “Washington Obamacare exemption,” or the Office of Personnel Management’s 2013 ruling that allowed congressional employees to keep the government contribution to their health care. On Feb. 13, Vitter sent a letter to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, explaining he is placing a procedural hold on the deputy director’s nomination until he receives answers about the decisions to continue the contribution and allow Congress to enroll in the small business exchange.
Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr