Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who campaigned on a pledge to repeal health reform, gained notoriety shortly after being elected when he complained about a delay in receiving his government-sponsored health care benefits as a member of Congress. While repeal efforts have unified most Republicans, Harris’ comments sparked a debate within the GOP caucus over charges of hypocrisy. Several new Republican lawmakers have turned down their government-sponsored plans, but the vast majority have chosen to accept taxpayer money to help pay for their own health benefits and coverage for their staff.
Speaking to ThinkProgress shortly after the swearing-in ceremony for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) explained to us that — although he supports repealing health reform — he hasn’t evaluated his own package of taxpayer-subsidized health benefits for himself and his staff. At first, Paul said he wasn’t sure of the size of the taxpayer subsidy. Asked if he thought it was hypocritical for members of Congress to accept government subsidized and regulated health plans while repealing similar benefits for everyone else, Paul replied blithely, “[c]ould be”:
KEYES: Do you think you’ll be voting for it when it comes up, voting for repeal?
PAUL: I would.
KEYES: Do you think you’ll also be giving up government-sponsored health care for yourself?
PAUL: I would hope so. [...] Well, I will be voting against all of this stuff, but whether I’m going to be changing my policies or not, I have Blue Cross Blue Shield. I pay a fee every month for it.
KEYES: But the government, the members of Congress and their staff are all subsidized by taxpayers, government subsidies.
PAUL: I don’t know how much the subsidy is — [...]
FANG: Do you think it’s hypocritical to take government subsidized and regulated health care as a member of Congress but repeal it for everyone else?
PAUL: Could be.
Members of Congress on average receive a $700 a month taxpayer subsidy for their health insurance plan, which they can choose through a highly regulated exchange offered by the government. The federal exchange establishes a minimum benefit plan, which bars discrimination based on preexisting conditions and other insurance industry abuses, and provides a menu of private sector plans to choose from. Congressional staff members receive the same plan as members. The federal system mirrors the reforms enacted by Democrats and President Obama, which end health insurance abuses by regulating coverage through an exchange, while offering subsidies to individuals and small businesses to make coverage more affordable.
Few Republicans have been as candid as Paul. For instance, Rep. Robert Hurt (R-VA) tried to tell ThinkProgress that his congressional health benefits don’t qualify as any special privilege. “It’s a policy that’s issued by Anthem and it’s a policy that any — it’s open to the public,” Hurt claimed. However, millions of Americans, unlike Hurt and other members of Congress, can be denied health coverage because of what insurance companies deem as “preexisting conditions.” And other than government employees and veterans, few Americans enjoy the type of taxpayer subsidies given to members of Congress like Hurt and Paul.