By Chris Coleman

When the newly-elected Republican congressman from Maryland, Andy Harris, was told that his government-subsidized health insurance would not go into effect until four weeks after his swearing in, he was furious. According to an article in Politico.com, he demanded to know why it would take so long and what he was supposed to do without 28 days of health care.

Ironically, Harris, like most of Tennessee’s congressional representatives, campaigned against “government health care,” and remains committed to repealing the new health care law, which would give his constituents and the American people the very same benefits and protections he is demanding for himself. The House of Representatives will soon vote on a proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and nearly all of Tennessee’s representatives intend to vote in favor of repeal. In other words, our representatives will attempt to take away from us what they intend to keep for themselves and their own families.

What are the benefits and protections that the opponents of the Affordable Care Act want to keep for themselves but deny to the American people? Here are a few examples:

• When the Affordable Care Act fully goes into effect in 2014, it will guarantee that Americans will have access to health coverage, even if they have a pre-existing condition. Members of Congress already have guaranteed access to government-subsidized health coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions, yet many will vote to take this protection away from American families.

• The Affordable Care Act will provide tax-credit subsidies for millions of Americans to help make insurance premiums affordable. Opponents of the Affordable Care Act hope to deny these subsidies to Americans, even though members of Congress receive subsidies of almost three-quarters of their total health insurance premiums.

• The Affordable Care Act will eliminate the prescription drug benefit gap, the so-called “donut hole,” for people on Medicare. Elimination of the donut hole started last year, when everyone on Medicare who reached the donut hole received a $250 check to help them pay for their medications.

• This year, seniors falling into the donut hole will get a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs and other discounts on generic drugs. These discounts will increase each year until the donut hole is completely eliminated in 2020. Repealing the Affordable Care Act would eliminate this important improvement in Medicare for seniors and people with disabilities, even though Congressional insurance plans include prescription drug benefits without a coverage gap.

There are many other examples of protections and benefits that members of Congress receive that Americans would lose if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, from limits on out-of-pocket costs when they or their family members get sick, to the right to appeal wrongful denials of insurance claims.

Responding to charges that it is hypocritical to accept government-subsidized health insurance while denying it to American families, several newly elected Congressmen—Bobby Schilling and Joe Walsh of Illinois, Bill Johnson of Ohio, and Mike Kelley of Pennsylvania—have honored their campaign rhetoric by refusing to accept congressional health care.

Other representatives reject the charges of hypocrisy. Freshman Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY) told reporters, "What am I, not supposed to have health care? It's practicality. I'm not going to become a burden on the state because I don't have health care, and God forbid I get into an accident and I can't afford an operation. That can't happen to anyone."

Unfortunately, that happens to people all the time because most people, unlike Reps. Harris, Grimm, and the entire Tennessee congressional delegation, do not have access to government-subsidized health care. And it will continue to happen if opponents of the Affordable Care Act succeed in their efforts to repeal it.
Coleman is Staff Attorney of the Tennessee Justice Center.
Copyright (C) 2011 by Tennessee Editorial Forum. 2/11