Judge dismisses challenge to D.C. health exchange funding

District of DeBonis

Judge dismisses challenge to D.C. health exchange funding

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, November 14

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit threatening the funding for the District’s health insurance exchange Thursday, two days before the exchange reopens its doors to potential enrollees.

D.C. Health Link‘s $28 million budget is funded in part by a 1 percent gross-receipts tax on health insurers — not only the receipts from plans sold through the federally mandated exchange, but also long-term care, disability, vision, and dozens of other health-related plans not available there.

The decision to tax plans not sold on the exchange prompted a lawsuit from the American Council of Life Insurers, who argued on behalf of its member companies that it was improper to do so based on the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, which provided for the state-based exchanges, as well as on constitutional grounds.

U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell did not accept those arguments, and in a 65-page opinion signed Thursday granted the District’s motion to dismiss the case. Congress, she said, “intended in the ACA to encourage States to operate their own Exchanges and to give the States broad authority to provide adequate funding for those Exchanges when federal funding ceased.”

The District, though not a state, operates its own exchange alongside 23 states.

Howell’s decision comes as a relief to city officials, who would have been forced to backfill the lost revenue had the lawsuit been successful. At midnight Friday, D.C. Health Link and the other exchanges authorized by the federal health reform law begin their second open-enrollment period, during which tens of thousands of city residents are expected to seek coverage.

Diane C. Lewis, chairwoman of the exchange’s executive board, called the ruling “a victory for the District’s residents and small businesses” and said it “reaffirms the broad benefits of DC Health Link, which the District Council recognized when enacting our enabling legislation and passing our financial sustainability plan.”

Representatives for the American Council of Life Insurers did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment Friday.

Vincent Gray rejects plea offer; federal prosecutors moving closer to indictment

Vincent Gray rejects plea offer; federal prosecutors moving closer to indictment

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, November 17 at 9:22 PM

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray rejected a proposal by federal prosecutors in September that he plead guilty to a single felony count in connection with their long-running investigation of his 2010 campaign, a person with knowledge of the talks said.

Prosecutors have also re-interviewed key witnesses in recent weeks, several individuals familiar with the case said — a further indication that authorities are marching toward an indictment of the outgoing mayor.

A deputy to U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. offered the plea deal in a mid-September meeting with Gray’s attorney, Robert S. Bennett. The person with knowledge of the talks said Gray (D) was not present for the plea offer, which would have required him to admit to one felony count. Bennett told the prosecutor that Gray would not accept any deal requiring him to plead guilty to anything.

In an interview Friday, Gray referred questions about the investigation to Bennett, but he steadfastly denied any guilt — as he has repeatedly over the 3 1/2 years investigators have spent examining his 2010 campaign.

“What would I plead to?” Gray said. “I’ve made clear all along what my feelings are about this whole situation. . . . So I’m not about to change anything. What would I plead to? I don’t know how to put it any other way than that.”

Bennett declined to comment except to say, “If indicted, he will vigorously defend against the charges and will seek a speedy trial.” William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, also declined to comment. “The investigation is ongoing,” he said.

Six people have pleaded guilty to federal crimes related to Gray’s mayoral campaign since 2012 — most recently Mark H. Long, the mayor’s campaign driver, who admitted in September to conspiring to violate campaign finance laws.

The most damning claims aired in court files and hearings focus on Gray’s alleged knowledge of a $653,000 “shadow campaign” on his behalf funded by businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson and executed by close associates Jeanne Clarke Harris and Vernon E. Hawkins.

The campaign was also dogged by revelations that a rival candidate, Sulaimon Brown, had been paid secretly by Gray associates to boost Gray’s chances by staying in the race and verbally attacking incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D).

After Thompson pleaded guilty to two felony charges in March, Machen said, “The veil over political corruption in the District of Columbia has been lifted.” He said city residents “deserve the truth.”

He also said the investigation was not over — an indication interpreted widely as a sign that the mayor was headed for indictment.

Reporter Nikita Stewart explains Jeffrey Thompson’s significance in D.C. politics and connections to key figures. (The Washington Post)

“I promise you, we are not going away,” Machen said at the time. “We are firm in our resolve.”

Gray has not been named in court documents or by Machen, but prosecutors have made references to his campaign in court hearings. The investigation played a crucial role in Gray’s political demise. Two weeks after Thompson’s guilty plea, Gray lost his bid for a second term in the Democratic primary to D.C. Council member Muriel E. Bowser (D-Ward 4). She went on to win the general election this month.

Prosecutors tendered the possible deal for Gray in a meeting just weeks after Long pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court. Since then, according to multiple people familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss an ongoing probe, investigators have continued to re-interview witnesses — including those who agreed to cooperate with the government as part of their plea deals.

Those interviews, the people said, appear aimed at firming up the prosecution’s case before asking a grand jury to return an indictment.

In the late summer, investigators were trained on actions the Gray administration may have taken to benefit Thompson, according to several people familiar with the case. Thompson once owned the company holding the city’s largest contract. The government appeared to be building a conspiracy case, alleging that Thompson supported Gray in exchange for favorable treatment for his firm, the individuals said.

Should Gray be indicted, he would be the first person targeted in the slow-moving campaign investigation not to agree to a plea deal. Gray’s defense team, according to people familiar with the case, believes the prosecution’s case would rest heavily on the credibility of Thompson — which they said could be discredited at trial by noting his favorable plea deal and admitted history of political corruption.

One lawyer involved in the case but not representing Gray said prosecutors would probably be able to secure an indictment — but would not face a simple task should the case go to trial. That may explain why Gray rejected a deal, the lawyer said.

“If we were where [Gray] was, you’d have to try me,” the lawyer said.

The prospect of an outgoing government executive facing federal indictment is reminiscent of the situation facing former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) this past winter.

McDonnell’s indictment came in mid-January, less than two weeks after he had attended the inauguration of successor Terry McAuliffe (D) and after weeks of meetings between his legal team and federal prosecutors in Virginia. That timetable ultimately spared McDonnell the embarrassment of being charged while in office. After being informed that the U.S. attorney intended to seek an indictment, McDonnell’s attorneys, according to Washington Post reports, made a final appeal to top Justice Department officials asking them to review the charging decision.

That review included a meeting with the second-ranking federal law enforcement official. The indictment did not come for more than a month after that.

The person familiar with the Gray plea talks said Bennett made an argument to the assistant U.S. attorney overseeing the probe, Michael Atkinson, for why Gray should not be charged. He also asked that if Gray is indicted, the charges are returned only after Gray leaves office on Jan. 2 in order to provide a smooth transition for Bowser. There is no indication that Bennett has taken his entreaties to more senior officials.

In the McDonnell case, prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia reportedly told McDonnell’s defense team of their plans to seek an indictment but gave no indication of the precise timing.

Asked about the timing of potential charges against Gray, Machen said in March, “I don’t feel there’s a timetable. My obligation is to move forward when there’s enough evidence to move forward.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

Taxpayer Suit Against DC HBX’s Acceptance of Congressional Members & Staff

http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-files-taxpayer-lawsuit-stop-congress-participating-district-columbias-small-business-exchange/

The attached federal lawsuit was filed earlier this month against the DC HBX. The attached link provides the Judicial Watch press release on the suit. The plaintiff, Mr. Vining, is a DC resident and local taxpayer.

The policy implications of this suit, assuming it is successful, are two-fold:

1.) There are roughly 12,000 congressional members and staffers who have joined the DC SHOP exchange – representing the vast majority of total SHOP enrollees, now totaling about 14,400 members.

2.) Given the demographic characteristics typical of congressional staffers, their experience adds meaningfully younger (and therefore healthier) risks to the DC HBX, thereby facilitating a healthier overall SHOP risk pool.

Please let me know if you have questions.

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

Vining-v-DC-Health-Benefit-Exchange-Complaint re Congress on DC Exchange.pdf

Mayor Vincent Gray kicks off moveDC plan

Mayor Vincent Gray kicks off moveDC plan

By Luz Lazo, Washington Post, October 21 at 2:16 PM

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Tuesday released an ambitious long-range transportation plan that he said would expand the city’s transit options while deterring driving through the use of toll lanes on the city’s gateways and charging a congestion fee to motorists entering downtown.

MoveDC, looks ahead to 2040 and envisions a wide transit network that includes a streetcar system, dedicated bus lanes in major commuter corridors, expanded Metrorail service in the downtown core, an active water taxi system and 200 miles of on-street bicycle facilities.

To ensure the plan is implemented, Gray launched an action plan Tuesday that lays out 36 key steps the city will take over the next two years to advance the vision. The two-year action plan includes some capital investments in infrastructure, the advance of several transportation studies and some policy changes.

“MoveDC is about being able to expand choices for all modes or methods of getting around the city,” said Gray, whose term ends in January. He said he has every confidence that the 25-year plan will be carried out. “I don’t know what changes future mayors will make, but the fundamental direction in this plan will be made.”

Some of the key steps over the next two years are:

  • Begin construction of a new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge over the Anacostia River. Transportation officials project construction will begin next year. A new bridge would provide wide sidewalks and bike facilities and serve as an important gateway for people east of the river into downtown.
  • Complete DDOT’s traffic signal optimization project to enhance the District’s traffic signal network. The city plans to finish optimizing each of the 1,600 signals by 2016.
  • Add sidewalks where they are missing, with priority to areas near schools, parks, and transit.
  • Improve pedestrian safety at 20 or more intersections.
  • Complete the Klingle and Kenilworth Anacostia Riverwalk Trail projects and advance the Rock Creek and Metropolitan Branch Trail projects
  • Continue the expansion of the bike network by installing or upgrading 15 miles of on-street bicycle facilities
  • Complete bus priority improvements: DDOT plans to install dedicated bus lanes on Georgia Avenue from Florida Avenue to Barry Place, transit signal priority on 16th Street, and real-time arrival information in shelters citywide. DDOT officials say they plan to work with Metro to implement signal improvements in at least 10 locations on high-ridership corridors to expedite the bus service.
  • Reduce by half the number of structurally deficient bridges. DDOT officials say in the pipeline are investments for improvements at several of the city’s most used bridges including the 16th Street Bridge and the Key Bridge.

DDOT Director Matthew Brown said the short-term action plan will keep DDOT and other agencies on track to advance the vision. Officials say a discussion and a plan about how to pay for the $54 billion moveDC plan have yet to be addressed. Gray said among the most immediate concerns are restoring funding for the proposed 22-mile streetcar network. The D.C. Council voted to sharply roll back Gray’s proposed budget for the streetcar system, something that he says imperils the system before it even begins service.

“This funding needs to be restored,” Gray said. “It is going to cost the city more money to not have the streetcar program fully in the city.”

As part of the short-term goals, DDOT will proceed with several studies, including how to increase bus capacity in the 16th Street NW corridor where some transit users and advocates have been calling for the implementation of dedicated bus lanes. The agency also plans to advance a study on bicycle infrastructure on the east side of downtown, the federal environmental review process for the streetcar system and a comprehensive rail plan for the city.

Cheryl Cort, policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the plan provides a big vision for how the city will move in the future and welcomed the two-year action plan as a good strategy to advance the vision.

“We can check and keep track and see how we are going to move forward,” she said.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.

D.C. Health Link gets sued again. This time, it’s because of Congress.

D.C. Health Link gets sued again. This time, it’s because of Congress.

Oct 20, 2014, 2:56pm EDT

Conservative group called Judicial Watch is behind the latest challenge to D.C.’s Health Benefit Exchange Authority in District Superior Court.

Tina Reed

Staff Reporter- Washington Business Journal

A conservative group called Judicial Watch is behind the latest challenge in District Superior Court to D.C.’s Health Benefit Exchange Authority. A lawsuit filed by District resident Kirby Vining accuses D.C. Health Link of accepting documents from the House and Senate that say they employ less than 50 people in order to use the small business exchange for their employees, the Washington Times reported.

When drafting the law in 2009 and 2010, members of Congress required themselves and their staffs to use the exchange to buy coverage. It was good news to D.C. exchange developers and insurance plans competing for business because it steered thousands of generally healthy, relatively young people into the exchange. It also meant small, private businesses in the District joining the exchange would have a broader base over which to spread actuarial risk.

This is the second lawsuit challenging the strategies the District has used to make its own exchange a viable option, since it has such a small population compared with most states.

Earlier this year, the American Council of Life Insurers sued the exchange because of its funding source, a 1 percent tax on all "health-related" insurers meant to make the exchange sustainable. The suit filed on behalf of all insurers that can’t sell their products on the exchange say they do not directly benefit from the exchange and shouldn’t be forced to pay for it. The District has said all insurers benefit from a healthier population and therefore are direct beneficiaries who should support the exchange.

The tax was collected Sept. 30 in advance of the fiscal year, when the District was required to show it could sustain its own exchange.

A District judge has yet to rule on that case.

District Health Benefit Exchange Authority Director Mila Kofman is named in the suit. The exchange and the District’s Office of the Attorney General declined to comment.

Kofman told Kaiser Health News earlier this year companies opposing the tax have threatened legal action and are worried other states might follow D.C.’s lead with the funding strategy. The tax on insurers was necessary, officials have said, because the city does not have the volume other states have to make the exchange self-sustaining. The District would have had to charge a 17 percent tax on every health plan sold on its website to cover its budget.

"Being a small state, we have to think differently about how we finance D.C. Health Link and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act," Kofman told the D.C. Council Committee on Health earlier this year.

Tina Reed covers health care.

New D.C. mayor poll: Bowser over Catania by 12 points

New D.C. mayor poll: Bowser over Catania by 12 points

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, October 20 at 3:21 PM

A new poll finds Democrat Muriel E. Bowser with a double-digit lead over independent David A. Catania with 15 days left in the D.C. mayoral race.

Bowser carried 45 percent support among likely D.C. voters, with Catania holding 33 percent support and fellow independent Carol Schwartz with 12 percent. Only 7 percent said they were undecided.

The survey was commissioned by Economic Growth D.C., a pro-business advocacy group, and reached 800 likely voters via landlines and cellphones between Thursday and Sunday. It was performed by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a prominent Democratic polling firm, and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 points.

Economic Growth D.C. commissioned the last published poll of the mayor’s race, which found an 8-point margin between Bowser and Catania in late September.

Like the previous poll, the new Economic Growth D.C. poll selects respondents from a voter list rather than by dialing random numbers, as in most media polls. In the late September survey, 53 percent of likely voters were white, while 42 percent were African American. In the new poll, 48 percent of likely voters are black and 43 percent white — hewing more closely to the demographic split seen in the mid-September NBC4/Washington Post/Marist poll that put Bowser 17 points ahead of Catania.

The earlier poll showed 27 percent undecided, while the new poll shows 7 percent undecided. “It seems that Democrats who may have been on the fence have come home to council member Bowser,” said Dave Oberting, Economic Growth D.C.’s executive director. “Any momentum that Catania might have had seems to have been blunted.”

Still, a memo prepared by the polling firm identified “an element of fluidity left in the race” despite Bowser’s lead: “One-in-five voters in this electorate are weak Bowser supporters, and another 7 percent remain undecided. Further, as the following table shows, Bowser’s advantages on key images all fall short of her overall 12-point lead on the ballot.”

On two of those “images” — “Will improve the economy and create jobs in the District”; “Represents people like me” — Bowser holds a significant advantage over Catania. On the other hand, voters asked who “will work with the business community to grow and create jobs” and who “represents a change from the current administration” give Catania an advantage. On the questions of who “will reduce crime and drugs” and who “will improve public schools,” Bowser and Catania are statistically tied.

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this post.

The Post endorses Muriel Bowser for D.C. mayor

The Post endorses Muriel Bowser for D.C. mayor

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 18: Muriel Bowser (D) makes her introduction speech at the first DC Mayoral debate in Washington, DC on September 18, 2014. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

By Editorial Board October 17 at 1:40 PM

D.C. RESIDENTS have reason to be disaffected with city government and politics. The incumbent mayor has operated under the shadow of the illegal campaign fundraising that helped to put him in office. Three members of the D.C. Council left their offices in disgrace. This sad state of affairs played a part in the unusually low turnout for the April primary, and it may help explain why many voters say they remain uninspired by the mayoral election just 2½ weeks away.

We hope they look again. This is a critical election, and it offers a clear choice. Despite the ethical cloud that has hung over Mayor Vincent C. Gray and contributed to his defeat in the Democratic primary, he will leave office in January with the city on generally sound footing. Its finances are healthy, its schools are attracting more families every year and many neighborhoods are reinvigorated. His successor must maintain that momentum while providing the leadership to confront new challenges.

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4’s representative on the council and the Democratic nominee, is the candidate best prepared to provide that leadership. We endorsed her in the primary but acknowledged it was not an easy choice because of the capable opponents then running against her. We faced no such dilemma this time. Neither council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) nor former council member Carol Schwartz comes close to Ms. Bowser in temperament, work ethic, ideas, policy understanding and balanced approach.

We don’t discount Ms. Schwartz’s past accomplishments (notwithstanding her wrong-headed opposition to the mayor’s takeover of the schools) or her love of the city, but sentimentality cannot advance the District or the interests of its residents. She has failed to present a credible rationale for her independent candidacy.

Mr. Catania also can point to accomplishments in his 17 years on the D.C. Council, including his advocacy for same-sex marriage and his oversight of health care in the District. But he also has been on the wrong side of many important issues. If it were up to Mr. Catania, it is likely there would be no city-financed baseball stadium for the Nationals to play in and no convention center to attract visitor dollars, not to mention the hundreds of jobs created by both projects. The money-draining D.C. General Hospital might still be limping along. That Mr. Catania seems unable to concede he might have been wrong is all the more troubling.

Also worrisome has been Mr. Catania’s stewardship of the council’s education committee, which roughly coincided with his interest in becoming mayor. Instead of forging a meaningful collaboration with the city’s able schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, he set out to pass a series of bills that were sure to capture headlines but would do little to improve schools. D.C. schools are on the mend because Mr. Gray and his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty (D), put competent professionals in place and let them do the job. The well-documented concerns about Mr. Catania’s temperament raise questions about what kind of leader he would be — “bully” is a word that crops up with disturbing frequency — and have been amplified by the often mean-spirited campaign he has run.

Ms. Bowser, by contrast, has grown only stronger as her candidacy has progressed. A lifelong Washingtonian, she is well positioned to bring substance to the “One City” motto that Mr. Gray articulated but had trouble fulfilling. She is committed to better serving longtime residents, especially the poor who have benefited least from Washington’s rise, but also appreciates the urgency of attracting businesses and welcoming new residents. Her travel to other cities has given her insights into what works and what doesn’t and bespeaks a refreshing willingness to admit there are things she doesn’t know.

Those critical or jealous of Ms. Bowser have painted a caricature of a lightweight. That is not the tough politician we have come to know and admire in her seven years on the council. She strikes us as smart, capable and confident without being arrogant. On the council, she has learned the ins and outs of government, from zoning to ethics to tree canopies. As mayor she says she would set priorities, find the right people to pursue them — including a professional city administrator — and give them the support to get it right. She has said that chancellor Henderson and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier would be among those on her team, if they agree to stay.

We enthusiastically endorse Muriel Bowser. She is the clear, best choice for voters on Nov. 4.

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