Mary Cheh criticizes colleague’s vote on Twitter

Cheh took the unusual, perhaps unprecedented step, of taking her displeasure with a colleague’s vote to Twitter. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Updated 6:35 p.m. with Cheh comment

In a rare public critique of a D.C. Council colleague, Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) lashed out on Twitter at David Grosso (D-At Large) shortly after he helped defeat a Cheh-sponsored health-care bill in a Monday afternoon committee vote.

“Frmr VP of @CareFirst @cmdgrosso voted to kill Telemedicine bill that would expand access to medical care for low-income residents,” Cheh tweeted at 4:42 p.m., about a hour after the committee meeting ended.

Grosso, aka @cmdgrosso, was a vice president handling public policy matters for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the region’s dominant health insurer, before winning office last November.

The bill in question, the Telemedicine Reimbursement Act, would require health insurers in the city to pay for health care services provided remotely via interactive audio and video — used now for an increasing array of checkups and treatments. One provision in Cheh’s bill would prevent insurers from charging more for a service delivered via telemedicine than for the same service delivered in-person.

At Monday’s meeting of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Grosso offered an amendment that would strike the equal-cost language from the bill — a change, he said in an interview, that “would allow it to work better” and avoid creating a “weird playing field.” After the amendment failed, Grosso joined with Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) to vote against the bill, preventing it from passing the four-member committee.

“It’s actually a good idea, the right thing to do,” Grosso said about requiring telemedicine coverage. “Mary Cheh was just unwilling to budge in order to get something good done.”

But Cheh characterized Grosso’s opposition to the original bill on Twitter as a favor to the insurance industry: “@cmdgrosso wanted amendment to allow insurance companies to charge more. I said ‘no’ so he killed bill.”

In an interview, Cheh said her tweeting was “perfectly appropriate” given that Grosso “didn’t have the courtesy to come to me and say he had an issue.” Nor, she said, would he allow the bill to move along to the full council, where it also could be amended.

“It certainly was not courteous and not sensible and not the ordinary way we deal with one another,” she said. “I was ambushed.”

Cheh also took a swipe at Grosso’s politics: “He was supposed to have been elected as some sort of progressive. He had an opportunity [to be progressive]. … Instead, he voted to kill that bill.”

While there are restrictions on former legislators and government employees lobbying after they leave government service, there are few restrictions on public officials voting on matters that affect their previous private employers. Grosso was asked about his CareFirst ties at an October candidates’ forum and whether he would refrain from voting on matters involving the company: “I think I would have to,” he said. “Certainly if it came up with CareFirst I would have to, I don’t think that’s true if it comes up in other areas. But what’s the distance, a year? Some time would be necessary, I absolutely agree with that.”

Grosso said Monday he had no qualms about voting on the bill in light on his prior employment: “”I’m not a puppet to anybody. … Like anybody’s experience in life, it puts them in a position to understand things.”

“This is about good government for me,” he continued. “This is about a government being effective. You put something like this in there, you make the government look bad. I just think it’s about the ability to accept some refinements and make the bill better.”

As for the public nature of Cheh’s criticism, Grosso said he is “not going to comment on whether the use of Twitter is the appropriate place to have this kind of discussion.”

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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Mike DeBonis · April 8, 2013