(AP Photo/Wally Santana)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A 3-judge panel at the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 today that seniors who receive Social Security cannot reject their legal right to collect Medicare benefits.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey is among the five senior citizens who filed a suit, Brian Hall vs. Sebelius, in an effort to stay out of Medicare while continuing to collect Social Security benefits. The appeals court majority held that the law gives the plaintiffs no way to opt out of their eligibility if they want to continue to collect Social Security.

Armey, a Texas Republican, and his co-plaintiffs say their private insurers limit their coverage because they are eligible for Medicare. They would prefer to get all of their coverage from their private insurers.

“We understand plaintiffs’ frustration with their insurance situation and appreciate their desire for better private insurance coverage,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a majority opinion joined by Douglas Ginsburg.

Kavanaugh and Ginsburg, who are both Republican appointees, said they agree with the Obama administration that the law says those over age 65 who enroll in Social Security are automatically entitled to Medicare Part A, which covers services including hospital, nursing home care, hospice and home health care.

The Fund for Personal Liberty, Freeland, Wash., a group that says it wants to take on burdensome government regulations, has helped the plaintiffs pay to bring the lawsuit.

Attorney Kent Brown, who argued the case for the plaintiffs, said the plaintiffs want to keep their Social Security, because they believe they earned it, but want to get out of Medicare Part A.

“To say that you can’t decline Medicare Part A and not opt out of Social Security is outrageous,” Brown said in a telephone interview from his office in Lexington, Ky. He said Congress never intended that and vowed to appeal the ruling.

Besides Armey, the plaintiffs include two other former federal employees who were covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program — retired Housing and Urban Development employee Brian Hall of Catlett, Va., and retired Navy civilian engineer John Kraus of Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

The plaintiffs who argue that private insurance covers more than Medicare.

The two other plaintiffs are wealthy individuals — E*Trade board member Lewis Randall of Whidbey Island, Wash., and Rabbit Semiconductor founder and retired CEO Norman Rogers of Miami — who have high-deductible private insurance and prefer to pay for their health care.

The plaintiffs found an ally in Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, a judge nominated to the court by President George H.W. Bush. She wrote that Congress did not authorize the Social Security Administration to penalize an individual who wants to decline Medicare.

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