Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Health

Florida Republicans face Obamacare conundrum: Take the subsidy or not

WASHINGTON — Rep. Dennis Ross is putting his money where his talk is on Obamacare.

The Lakeland Republican has shopped for private insurance rather than participate in the federal health care marketplace, surrendering a generous taxpayer-funded subsidy.

His decision underscores the uncomfortable politics that Florida Republican lawmakers, who have steadfastly opposed the law, faced this month.

Rep. Steve Southerland, a conservative from Panama City, decided to enroll in the District of Columbia insurance exchange and took the subsidy. Still, he said in a statement, "my focus remains on replacing this law for all Americans," citing a "disastrous online rollout" and other problems.

Rep. Ted Yoho, a tea party favorite from Gainesville, also enrolled and took the subsidy despite co-sponsoring legislation to eliminate it.

Ross and other Republicans argued the subsidy — worth up to 75 percent of monthly premiums — gave members of Congress a special privilege.

"Not accepting the contribution will cost me significantly more money," Ross said. "While a lot of people receive employer contributions, I don't believe that the law was written in a way that included government contributions for members of Congress. If my constituents must suffer through the perils and unintended consequences of the horrible law, then I will be standing there with them doing the same."

The subsidy was long a perk under the previous congressional health care program. But it had become a target in the fight over Obamacare. As the law was being written, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa offered an amendment that pushed lawmakers off their existing plan and into Obamacare.

Most lawmakers are electing coverage in the D.C. exchange, which allows them to keep the subsidy.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, is covered through the exchange and taking the subsidy, as is Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, though Rooney's spokesman said he is paying $2,500 more than before. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, enrolled in the exchange and took the subsidy. So did Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, one of Congress' richest members.

Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, turned down federal health care benefits when he was elected in 2010 and has kept an unsubsidized plan he had with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, also declined federal health care when he was elected in 2010, purchasing a plan without a taxpayer subsidy.

"I didn't come to Washington for the benefits," Webster said.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, who also sponsored legislation to eliminate the subsidy, declined to take one. A spokeswoman, Elizabeth Dillon, did not answer repeated inquiries whether he joined the exchange.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, "is joining the health exchange, as required by the statue in the Affordable Care Act," a spokeswoman said. "He is taking the same employer contribution that has been provided to him since he was first elected to Congress in 2002.

Florida's best-known politician in Washington, Sen. Marco Rubio, enrolled in the federal exchange and took the subsidy. Rubio, a father of four, has taken some heat from all sides but says he was following the law like everyone else. He said he would support legislation to eliminate the subsidy.

Some Democrats are dealing with the politics as well. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, who barely won election in 2012, enrolled in the federal exchange (he signed up as a Florida resident) but will not get a subsidy.

"He's always been very adamant that Congress should not have any special privileges," spokeswoman Erin Moffet Hale said.

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