Stefanik pays her way on health insurance

We were pleased to hear that our northern New York congresswoman, Elise Stefanik, gets her personal health insurance from the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”

Rep. Stefanik said so Friday, Jan. 13 in interviews with North Country Public Radio and the Post-Star of Glens Falls, while explaining her vote for a step toward repealing the ACA. She, like other Republicans, wants to eliminate and replace the ACA, but she wants to phase it in over three years while President Donald Trump wants it done quickly. She echoes her ally House Speaker Paul Ryan in saying she doesn’t want to “pull the rug out” from under people whom the ACA has helped.

“I am on Obamacare myself,” she told NCPR. “I do not take the congressional subsidy, so I have experienced some of the challenges with high deductibles, higher out-of-pocket co-pays on Obamacare.”

Members of Congress have long given themselves much better health insurance than average Americans, so this struck us as as step forward.

To get more details, we followed up with her spokesman Tom Flanagin.

For one thing, he told us that “The Office of Personnel and Management requires all Members of Congress to purchase Gold level plans, which she has.” Plans are rated bronze, silver, gold or platinum, with bronze having the lowest premiums but highest deductibles.

But here’s where it really got interesting. Since employers generally cover a portion of their employees’ health insurance — sometimes all of it — we asked Mr. Flanagin what portion of Rep. Stefanik’s insurance the federal government covers. His answer: “All Members of Congress are eligible for a subsidy to pay for their insurance; however, Congresswoman Stefanik returns this subsidy to the Treasury and pays her full premium.”

That’s kind of a big deal, especially in this time of raucous populist democracy when people see politicians as elitists. We are impressed that our House representative, unlike many others, is willing to live with the health care plan Congress gave the rest of America, even if she doesn’t agree with it — and she doesn’t.

Mind you, with her $174,000 congressional salary, she can better afford ACA premiums than a typical North Country worker making $25,000 to $30,000 a year, but still, a gold-level plan with no employer contribution is not cheap, and she’s not wildly rich. We all know that people much richer than her take every opportunity to have the taxpayers pick up the tab.

Rep. Stefanik is not one of those, to her credit. It gives her credibility as she works toward coming up with a new way of handling health insurance in America — an enormous and complicated task whose result will certainly be imperfect. We need to believe she will do so in the interests of North Country people rather than health corporations. Paying her own way is a good way to build trust.

P.S.: In another praise-worthy move, Rep. Stefanik has said she voted “no” in private as well as in public to a move by Republicans to scrap an independent ethics commission and police themselves. She had voted no in the House vote the first Tuesday of January, but now she says she also voted no in a closed-door GOP caucus the day before. Good.