As the debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act rages on following the decision handed down by a Florida judge that the health care overhaul contains unconstitutional mandates, much of the media has ignored the fact that nearly all GOP lawmakers in Congress pushing for repeal — as well as their staffs — currently accept government-sponsored health care.
Only eight Republican members of the House have opted out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, which is 2008 covered some 8.5 million federal workers and their dependents at a cost of $15 billion to taxpayers.
Among those attempting to avoid the admittedly hypocritical stance of lambasting health care reform as “socialist” or part of a “government takeover” while simultaneously reaping the benefits of taxpayer-subsidized insurance are two freshman congressmen from Florida: Rich Nugent and Dan Webster.
But as Think Progress reported yesterday, all 242 House Republicans who voted to repeal the law opponents have dubbed “ObamaCare,” including those who opted out of coverage themselves, are still allowing their staff to reap the benefits of a public health insurance plan:
A select few pro-repeal lawmakers have refused to accept government health benefits for themselves to try to stay consistent in their opposition to government health care. Out of the few who have eschewed government health plans for themselves, many are either on government benefit plans from their service in state government or the military. Others are independently wealthy, like Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), who owns a large car dealership or Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), an investment banker.
More critically, every single Republican contacted by ThinkProgress has refused to deny government health benefits to their staff. Congressional staff members are granted the same taxpayer-subsidized, government-regulated health plans available to members. Unlike lawmakers, staff are often middle-class Americans who are not independently wealthy and need regular coverage in case they get sick. While lawmakers and their staff work ruthlessly to repeal health reform — thus denying coverage to over 30 million Americans and helping insurance companies continue outrageous, life-threatening abuses to their customers — pro-repeal members believe their staff should be “free to choose” quality government care.
In a recent interview with the Ocala Star-Banner, Rep. Webster explained his decision to turn down federal coverage:
“I didn’t come here to get health insurance. I came here to make a difference,” Webster said in a recent interview.
“As long as it’s subsidized I decided I’m not going to participate.”
Webster said his family is covered by the health insurance plan he has through his business.
Rep. Nugent also explained his rationale and added that he’ll be drafting legislation aimed at relieving taxpayers of having to fund similar benefits afforded to members of Congress, which will focus on eliminating requirements that elected representatives to participate in the congressional pension plan and taxpayer-funded matches to Congress’ 401(k)-style deferred compensation plan:
“I want to remain with [my decision], because I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Because I think that when you have Americans that are struggling, why should I — why should I — get a cost savings because I just got elected to the United States House of Representatives? That’s the reality.”
In the months leading up to the health care overhaul in 2010, the Los Angeles Times emphasized the disconnect between the coverage afforded to federal employees and the cost of an average family’s health insurance policy, which a 2009 Keiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust survey put at $13, 375 — more than double the cost in 2000:
Given their choices, lawmakers can tailor coverage in a way most Americans cannot. If a child has asthma, for instance, a federal employee might opt for coverage that costs a little more but has a bigger doctor network and lower office-visit fees.
The plan most favored by federal workers is Blue Cross Blue Shield, which covers a family for about $1,030 a month. Taxpayers kick in $700, and employees pay the rest. Seeing a doctor costs $20. Generic prescriptions cost $10. Immunizations are free. There is no coverage limit.
Federal employees also enjoy a significant benefit denied the average American: There is no such thing as a preexisting condition, which keeps many sick people from obtaining insurance. Once hired, federal workers are eligible for coverage no matter their health, with no waiting period.
Despite the legal wrangling and appeals processes that are likely to wage on for months if not years, some leaders are taking the issue of providing affordable health insurance into their own hands.
The governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, has moved to create a single-payer health care system for his state that he envisions as a model for the rest of the country:
The current system in America is unaffordable. I think Democrats and Republicans can agree on that. If we stay on the current course, we will be spending the lion’s share of our income on healthcare. It will bankrupt our businesses. It puts us at a competitive disadvantage with all of the other countries who have figured this out.
My vision is that if Vermont can get this right, the other states will follow. Now, I’ve spoken with the President. We work together with our congressional delegation, with Secretary Sebelius. We need some waivers to make this happen. And what they’re saying is, “As long as you’re not lowering standards,” which we’re not, “we want to work with you. We want the states to be laboratories for change.” So, it’s an ambitious goal. We understand the land mines that lie out there, the special interests and the folks who are profiteering from our healthcare system, but we’re going to give it our best shot and try, lead the country.