Do Healthcare Reform Opponents Need Their Own Government Healthcare?

Last Updated Nov 29, 2010 11:54 AM EST

Striking back at last against healthcare reform's foes, some Democrats are saying it's hypocritical for Republican Congressmen who oppose federal help for the uninsured to accept government health insurance. Surprisingly, a majority of the public agrees that those who opposed reform during the election campaign should decline publicly provided coverage. What this suggests is that the Republicans' supposed mandate from "the people" is a lot shakier than they claim.

What set off this brouhaha were reports that newly elected Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) -- who favors repeal of the Affordable Act Act -- had expressed annoyance because he has a 30-day waiting period before his federal employees' health insurance kicks in. A group of 60 Democratic Congressmen reacted by sending a letter to GOP leaders that read in part:

You cannot enroll in the very kind of coverage that you want for yourselves, and then turn around and deny it to Americans who don't happen to be Members of Congress. We also want to note that in 2011, the Federal government will pay $10,503.48 of the premiums for each member of Congress with a family policy under the commonly selected Blue Cross standard plan. If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk.


This looks like a no-win issue for the Republicans. A spokesman for Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), the House Speaker-to-be, said it wasn't hypocritical to accept federal coverage because it has nothing to do with Obamacare, "which will wreck Americans' health care and bankrupt our country." But in fact, the state insurance exchanges at the heart of the reform initiative are based on the Federal Employees' Health Benefit Program, which provides Boehner's coverage.

Harris, a physician who pummeled his Democratic opponent on the reform issue before the election, tried to spin his own remarks by having a spokesman say that he was just pointing to the inefficiency of government-run healthcare. But to the average man or woman on the street, Harris must sound like another elitist whining because his above-average insurance deal isn't perfect.

Indeed, a new poll shows that 53 percent of Americans believe that politicians who ran on an anti-health reform platform should turn down government-provided insurance. Interestingly, conservatives were harsher than liberals on this count. Twenty-eight percent of self-identified conservatives said that the anti-reform Congressmen should accept the coverage, and 55 percent said they shouldn't. Among left-leaning respondents, 39 percent said the anti-reformers should take the insurance and 48 percent said they should decline it.

It's not clear whether conservatives are putting pressure on Republicans to toe the line on opposition to reform or whether they just don't think tax funds should be spent on anything except defense. In any case, it will be interesting to see how many GOP politicians reject government-subsidized health insurance. Those who don't might find that Democrats will put their feet to the fire when they try to block or repeal the reform legislation.

Image supplied courtesy of Flickr.
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  • Ken Terry

    Ken Terry, a former senior editor at Medical Economics Magazine, is the author of the book Rx For Health Care Reform.