President Obama and Mitt Romney are on opposite sides of the health care debate, but they have something in common when it comes to their medical insurance.
Both qualify for government-funded health care.
As president, Obama gets a personal physician completely paid for by taxpayers, as well as a family health care plan largely paid for by the federal government.
Romney’s campaign isn’t saying where the former Massachusetts governor gets his health insurance, but after turning 65 in March, Romney now qualifies for federally funded Medicare.
As the health care debate rages on, accusations fly over whether Obama’s Affordable Care Act will increase costs, or reduce them; whether it will improve care, or ultimately reduce available services.
But one thing can be said about those leading both sides of the debate: They all have good health care plans themselves. Many political leaders – on the federal, state and local levels – get their insurance from the government. Some have firsthand knowledge of how expensive health insurance can be. Others know about that secondhand.
Consider, for example, the candidates in the hotly contested race for the 27th Congressional District seat, whose campaigns have debated “Obamacare.” Kathleen C. Hochul, a Democrat, who views the president’s health care program as a work in progress, gets her health insurance through the federal government.
“Federal employees, retirees and their survivors enjoy the widest selection of health plans in the country,” the federal health care website says.
But it’s not free. Federal employees generally kick in about 25 percent toward their health care premiums. It’s extra to get the vision and dental plans also offered through the federal government.
Hochul pays a monthly premium contribution of $430, according to her campaign office. Her husband, the U.S. attorney assigned to the Buffalo district, is covered under her plan. The federal government doesn’t give any kind of stipend to a spouse for not taking coverage.
Republican Chris Collins, the former Erie County executive trying to unseat Hochul, gets health insurance through one of his companies, ZeptoMetrix, a biomedical firm. The company pays 80 percent of premiums; Collins pays the remaining 20 percent for the Independent Health family plan, the Collins campaign said.
Collins is among those pushing for repeal of the Obama health care law, citing its individual mandate and new taxes. Collins said he would favor subsequent legislation to address other health care issues, such as closing the “doughnut hole” for prescription drugs for senior citizens. He has provided few other details.
Hochul isn’t thrilled with all that the Obama health care law represents. She voted to repeal some parts – an expensive long-term care program, a tax on medical devices, and an independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel that some fear would have power to limit Medicare services.
But generally, Hochul’s spokesman said, she’s willing to work within the confines of the president’s program to make needed changes.
Collins, meanwhile, is looking to Romney for a better alternative.
MS group backs Obama law
As for Romney, from 2003 to 2007, while governor of Massachusetts, he and his family qualified for health insurance from the state of Massachusetts but didn’t take it. As a one-term governor, Romney does not qualify for retiree insurance from the state.
Because he’s now 65, Romney does qualify for Medicare, but likely has additional insurance for himself, as well as his wife, Ann. In fact, under the health care law Romney supported as governor, nearly all Massachusetts residents are required to have health insurance.
Given Romney’s vast wealth, it’s possible the former Bain Capital CEO purchases his own insurance. Another possibility is that he has been getting it all these years through Bain Capital, the Boston company that helped make him a multimillionaire. Romney founded the investment firm in 1984. He took a leave of absence from day-to-day operations in 1999 to lead the U.S. Winter Olympics organizing committee in Utah but remained involved in the company until 2002, when he ran for governor. Romney negotiated a hefty, 10-year severance package for himself upon leaving, various media have reported.
While it’s not known whether Romney has health insurance through Bain, he was working there in 1998 when his wife, now 63, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a manageable but incurable autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system. She is currently in remission, since receiving a year of aggressive intravenous steroids. But she still has flare-ups and has acknowledged having one last spring, possibly from the stress of campaigning.
“MS is an expensive condition,” said Nicholas G. LaRocca, Ph.D., vice president of health care delivery and policy research for the National MS Society. Drug regimens can cost $40,000 to 50,000 annually, he said. Some insurance policies pay a big chunk of the drug costs. Some pay less, he said.
The MS Society supports Obama’s health care law.
“The Affordable Care Act provides many provisions that are important to people with MS, including not having lifetime caps, the prohibition against pre-existing conditions, the repair of the doughnut hole in Medicare, and insurance exchanges, which will provide people trying to shop for insurance [with] new opportunities,” LaRocca said.
The Obama family, meanwhile, has retained the same federal health insurance it selected when Obama first arrived in Washington, D.C., as a senator from Illinois in 2004, according to the White House press office. The Obamas pay a portion of the premium.
All presidents also are eligible for federal health care when they leave office, according to the White House.
Cost to taxpayers at issue
Not surprisingly, many of those most outspoken in the health care debate get their insurance through the government that now – or previously – employed them.
In New York State, for example, perhaps the most strident basher of the Obama health care law is former Gov. George E. Pataki, who calls it the worst law he has seen in his lifetime.
New York State officials declined to discuss the former Republican governor’s medical insurance, and Pataki did not respond to requests for comment.
At 67, Pataki qualifies for Medicare. He also qualifies for retiree health insurance from the state.
At the opposite end of the New York spectrum, Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, views the Affordable Care Act as a good start, but would like to see it go ever further, with a single-payer government program. As an assemblyman, Gottfried receives health care coverage from the state.
Gottfried said he’s surprised that Pataki is against the president’s plan, given the former governor’s record of expanding health care in New York.
Pataki expanded Medicaid and other government-financed health insurance programs to bring “at least a couple million” more children and adults into the programs, Gottfried said.
In that sense, he noted, Pataki has something in common with Romney, who expanded health insurance coverage as governor of Massachusetts.
“I think that like Mitt Romney, someone with Pataki’s record as governor, ought to support the Affordable Care Act,” Gottfried said.
But Romney, like Pataki, draws a distinction between expanding insurance in his state and the president’s plan for the nation.
“My health care plan I put in place in my state has everyone insured,” Romney has said, “but we didn’t go out and raise taxes on people and have an unelected board tell people what kind of health care they can have.”