WASHINGTON -- Seventeen new Republican lawmakers, almost a fifth of the large House GOP freshman class, have rejected federal medical coverage for themselves and their families to highlight their opposition to President Barack Obama's showcase health-insurance law.
South Carolina's four rookie congressmen aren't following their lead. U.S. Reps. Tim Scott, Mick Mulvaney, Trey Gowdy and Jeff Duncan all voted last month to repeal what they and their Republican colleagues call "ObamaCare," the landmark bill the president signed into law last March to provide federally mandated coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans.
But the state's four freshman representatives aren't repealing their own new memberships in the Federal Employees Health
Benefit Program, a heavily taxpayer-subsidized plan with broad choices, generous provisions and low premiums thanks to discounted rates for its 8 million policyholders nationwide.
Norman Ornstein, an analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, thinks there is a gap between the talk and the walk of lawmakers who oppose "the federal takeover of health care" while accepting federal medical benefits. "The amount of hypocrisy here is obviously very high for people who talk about how we all have to make sacrifices but don't make any sacrifices themselves," Ornstein said. "They talk about how the health care system is out of control, but then they take these very generous benefits they get as members of Congress."
South Carolina is one of only eight states with at least four GOP rookie representatives, new members of Congress who face a decision about whether to take federal health insurance. Tennessee is the only other one of those states in which none of the GOP freshman lawmakers have turned down federal health insurance.
Three of Illinois' five new House members refused to sign up. So did three of Florida's eight freshman lawmakers. "I have term-limited myself," U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, an Illinois Republican, told ABC News. "I am not taking the pension. I am not taking pay raises, and my family and I are bringing our own health care to Washington, D.C."
South Carolina's four Republican freshmen, all of whom held state or local elective office before coming to Washington, aren't able or willing to bear the extra cost. None think they should have to pay more for their federal coverage than they now are paying. Seventy-two percent of the federal health care plan's costs are paid for by U.S. taxpayers, not the insured, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Gowdy, a Spartanburg Republican who defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis last year in the Upstate's GOP primary, said he now has the same health coverage he had from 1994 to 2000 when he was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in Greenville. "The way our health insurance is set up in this country is, you receive health insurance from your employer," Gowdy said.
Gowdy said he chose to go on the federal health plan instead of using state-government coverage provided to his wife and their two children through her job as a Spartanburg public schools teacher's aide.
Scott, a North Charleston Republican who represents the GOP freshman class in House leadership sessions, said he paid for part of his employees' health care costs when he owned an insurance firm in South Carolina. "If I did not work in Congress, I would not want the federal government paying for a portion of my health care," Scott said. "I support employer-sponsored health plans, as this has been the vehicle through which the majority of Americans have their coverage."
Scott served one term in the S.C. House and 13 years on Charleston County Council before coming to Washington. "I believe in market-based, patient-centric reform and do not believe government should take over health care," he said.