Amidst the hubbub of congressional activity and a presidential budget release, Capitol Hill has been rocked in recent days by news of something much closer to home: a data breach affecting the District of Columbia’s Obamacare Exchange, D.C. Health Link.
Because most congressional employees use the exchange to buy their health coverage, members and staff alike faced the prospect of having their personal information disclosed, with reports suggesting the data were already available for purchase on the “dark web.”
As a D.C. resident and an exchange customer (definitely not by choice), I too face the ramifications of the data breach. Thursday evening — more than 24 hours after congressional leaders notified their staff, and reports of the breach circulated in Capitol Hill publications — I finally received a notification.
The notice gave me the cheerful news that not just my name, address, email, and telephone number had been exposed, but my date of birth and Social Security number as well. As a consolation, the exchange provided a way to sign up for free credit monitoring.
But one person will not be affected by the breach: Mila Kofman, the head of D.C. Health Link and the official most responsible for the lax security practices that led to the virtual break-in. She, like D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and most other public officials in the nation’s capital, would not dream of buying health coverage on the exchange with the rest of the hoi polloi.
Officials Want to Keep Their Pricey Perks
Several years ago, as my insurance plan got canceled and Bowser sought to impose an individual mandate in the district, I started querying Kofman, Bowser, and D.C. Council members about whether they had purchased coverage from the exchange. At the time, none of them did.
When I asked Kofman about the issue, she claimed she wanted to purchase a plan from D.C. Health Link but that to do so, she would have to give up the health insurance subsidy that the district provides to all its employees.
She conveniently did not mention her salary at the time, but public records show it. At the time I asked her about her coverage in late 2016, her salary was more than $217,000. At the end of last year, she made nearly $240,000.
Given this generous compensation package, could Kofman really not have afforded to pay for coverage — or did she just not want to because she thinks she is entitled to such perks? I think we all know the answer to that question.
I posed the same question to Bowser in late 2018. At the time, the district had just enacted an individual mandate to purchase coverage, after Congress had set the mandate penalty to $0 in the 2017 tax bill.
More invasive than the federal version, the district’s mandate gives local officials the power to seize and sell individuals’ property if they cannot afford to pay the tax for going uninsured.
During our exchange, I told Bowser she received a $200,000 salary. (She currently earns $220,000.) She and the D.C. Council required people making far less than she did to buy health insurance — without any type of subsidy — or face tax penalties and harsh consequences if they cannot pay the tax.
So why did she think it fair to require others to spend their hard-earned money buying a product when she, an individual earning far more, would not do so herself?
She gave a response, but few would characterize it as an answer:
As someone who earns far less than both Bowser and Kofman, and who pays over $500 every month for junk “coverage” that hasn’t paid a dime of my medical expenses in years, it sticks in my craw to see these officials promote a product that they will not touch with a 10-foot pole.
While they promote the garbage product, we D.C. taxpayers hand over as much as $100,000 per year to subsidize the health coverage of the D.C. mayor, Council, and Health Link director.
That I and many other congressional staffers are now potentially affected by a data breach that will not personally affect them only adds to the chasm between the rulers and the ruled — in this case, Bowser and Kofman sitting in their proverbial ivory tower and telling other people what to do and what they can and cannot buy.
Congress, It’s Time to Act
Thankfully, there is a solution. Congress can and should pass legislation requiring the mayor, the members of the D.C. Council, and the D.C. Health Link director to obtain their coverage from the Health Link itself. For that matter, it could consider firing Kofman outright.
Perhaps this treatment will force Bowser and D.C. officials to consider more closely the consequences of their own actions with regard to things like privacy and security, not to mention imposing regulations that raise the cost of insurance.
The fact that dozens of congressional Democrats voted to overturn the Council’s rewrite of the D.C. criminal code means lawmakers no longer can hide behind the “home rule” excuse. They have no excuse not to engage on the health insurance issue because Congress retains sovereignty in D.C.
Perhaps the thought of seeing their personal information sold to criminal gangs overseas might focus the minds of Congress members.