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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Rejects Senator’s Obamacare Challenge

CHICAGO (CN) - A Wisconsin senator's challenge to Obamacare's system for providing health care to members of Congress and their staffers has failed in the 7th Circuit.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and his legislative aide, Brooke Ericson, took aim at an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) requirement for lawmakers and their staffs to obtain health insurance through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exchange.

It represented the rare case in which a senator claims to be altruistically begging courts to strip him of his "Cadillac benefits" so as not to appear as less of a man of the people before his constituents.

Skepticism by the federal appeals court was apparent at oral arguments in January, and found its way into Monday's judgment.

Johnson argued that OPM had no authority to grant pre-tax employer contributions to exchange-based plans and that the administrative burden was too great, even if it did.

The court had no patience for this two-sided logic.

"Even if the rule does place an administrative burden on plaintiffs, that does not give them standing to challenge the aspects of the rule that they allege are illegal, which are unrelated to the imposition of an administrative burden," Judge Joel Flaum wrote for a three-person panel.

Flaum added later: "Their asserted injury is not traceable to the availability of tax-free government contributions."

More generally, he concluded, "an official body's choice of how to organize a statute or set of regulations is irrelevant to the standing inquiry."

As to Johnson's claim that receiving such plush health care benefits would harm his reputation before his constituents, Flaum noted that "the mere allegation of unequal treatment, absent some kind of actual injury, is insufficient to create standing."

"We fail to see how, in the absence of some other sort of injury, being treated unequally well can constitute the sort of 'injury' that Article III requires in order to ensure that the plaintiff has a personal stake in the controversy," Flaum wrote.

The court concluded: "We have repeatedly held that public officials forced to take what they believe to be illegal actions cannot premise standing on the assertion that they do not want to be complicit in unlawful behavior. The possibility of electoral or reputational harm is much too hypothetical to constitute the type of concrete injury that is required to establish Article III standing."

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