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House Democrats challenge incoming GOP legislators on health coverage

From Deirdre Walsh, CNN Congressional Producer
A protester outside the Capitol calls for repeal of the health care reform law on November 15.
A protester outside the Capitol calls for repeal of the health care reform law on November 15.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many Republicans campaigned against the health care reform bill
  • Some House Dems say foes of health care reform should reject government coverage
  • Boehner spokesman says the health reform bill doesn't involve employer-provided coverage
RELATED TOPICS

Washington (CNN) -- House Democrats are calling on Republican congressional leaders to make public how many incoming GOP senators and representatives who campaigned on repealing the new health care law will forgo enrolling in the federally subsidized health care coverage they receive as members of Congress.

A group of more than 60 Democrats -- led by New York Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, California Rep. Linda Sanchez, Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan -- sent a letter to GOP leaders on Tuesday arguing that Republicans who want the health care bill repealed but accept coverage for themselves are hypocrites.

The Democrats who signed the letter seized on a recent article in Politico that reported Republican Rep.-elect Andy Harris of Maryland complained during orientation for new House Members last week that there was almost a month of lag time before coverage under the federal plan kicks in for new employees. Harris, a physician, campaigned against President Barack Obama's health care plan, pledging to repeal it.

In the letter sent to House GOP Leader John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the Democrats contended that newly elected GOP legislators can't have it both ways.

"If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk," the letter said. "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."

No member of the House Democratic leadership signed the letter.

CNN sought comment from Harris on the letter, but there was no immediate response. In an interview with Baltimore, Maryland, television station WBAL last week, Harris said that while he did ask about the start date for federal health insurance plans during orientation, he wasn't asking about coverage for his own family because they have insurance.

Harris argued in the interview that it was ironic for the new federal health care law to mandate coverage, but "when our federal employees get hired, if they don't get hired on the right day of the month, they actually go without insurance for a while."

Michael Steel, spokesman for Boehner, responded to the letter by telling CNN that "Boehner, like Speaker Pelosi, Sen. Reid and tens of millions of Americans, receives health coverage through his employer," which has "nothing to do with ObamaCare," the GOP euphemism for the health care reform bill.

McConnell's office had no comment on the letter.

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees labor union that lobbied for passage of health care reform, issued a statement that called GOP supporters of repeal who enroll in taxpayer-subsidized health care "hypocrites."

"If these Republicans really support market-based solutions to health care, they ought to go out and try to buy an individual policy in the insurance market," McEntee said.

Like other federal workers, members of Congress and their aides can choose from a large list of subsidized health plans provided by their employer, the federal government. The coverage is offered by private health insurance companies, and the Congress members and their staff pay premiums for the coverage.

A liberal advocacy group launched a radio ad in Maryland this week accusing Harris of "whining about his health care."

Harris responded to the ad a statement Monday that said "an out-of-district, liberal special interest group has decided to start the 2012 campaign with false accusations and personal attacks."

"While these outsiders are focused on a different agenda, I am concentrating on long-term job creation, reducing wasteful government spending and getting America back on the road to prosperity," the Harris statement said.