Political Posturing or Personal Preference? Some Lawmakers Reject Health Insurance

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Fourteen Freshman Lawmakers Decline Federal Health Insurance

The Federal Employees' Health Plan (FEHBP) that's offered to members of Congress works in much the same way as the insurance exchanges that the new law requires be set up by 2014. Members can compare rates and benefits and choose from a number of different options and plans that meet their needs.

FEHBP, administered by the Office of Personnel Management, is open to all active and retired federal government workers, so members of Congress can continue to take advantage of it even after they have left Washington.

Democrats have accused Republicans of hypocrisy and challenged them on more than one occasion to forego their insurance if they keep objecting to the health care law.

"If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk," said a letter, crafted by Rep. Jim Crowley, D-N.Y., and signed by 57 other members in November, to the Republican leadership.

Democrats tried to add an amendment to Wednesday's repeal bill, calling on members of Congress to waive their access to Congressional health care, but the motion was struck down.

Democrats say attempts by freshman lawmakers are a start, but not enough.

"I think it's a step for those folks, but their decision often times validates the concern that Democrats have with the majority of the Republican caucus, who seem to be retaining health benefits for themselves and repealing health insurance reform for the public," said Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The Republican leadership argues that opposition to the health care law and employer coverage are two different issues that shouldn't be mixed for political gains.

"Like tens of millions of other Americans, Speaker Boehner gets his health care through his employer," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Even those Republicans who declined federal health insurance for personal reasons say attempts to connect the two are a gimmick. They say that new members of Congress can help chart a new course for future members by leading by example.

"I think everyone has the right to their individual decision and I did what made sense for my family relative to my personal health insurance. I think they are two separate and distinct issues," said Rep. Frank Guinta, R-.N.H., who gets health insurance through his wife's employer.

"I think the freshman class has come in with an objective of doing things differently and trying to be a better reflection of what constituents are asking for," he said. "But I think everyone, again, they are entitled to make their decisions based on their own reasoning. I come in with the perspective of this is the people's house."

The 14 members of Congress who have waived federal health insurance are all Republican and include Reps. Guinta; Walsh; Nugent; Schilling; Sandy Adams, R-Fla.; Bob Dold, R-Ill.; Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Nan Hayworth, R-.N.Y.; Bill Johnson, R-Ohio; Mike Kelly, R-Penn.; David McKinley, R-W.Va.; Scott Rigell, R-Va. and Daniel Webster, R-Fla.

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