House GOP freshman critical of feds' health plan won't join it

Freshman GOP Rep. Andy Harris (Md.), who drew the ire of Democrats for complaining about having to wait to receive his federal health insurance plan, has decided to keep his private insurance instead.

Harris downplayed concerns he reportedly expressed during a closed-door November meeting about having to wait a month before his federal health benefits plan took effect. But he said he would keep his BlueCross/BlueShield insurance.

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"The comment was just a tongue-in-cheek comment about the federal government's efficiency at delivering a healthcare ... insurance product," he told Gannett on Tuesday. "Even at that time, I was leaning toward keeping my insurance. There was no reason for me not to." 

Harris's decision provides an interesting twist to the debate over whether Republicans who campaigned against the Democrats' healthcare law should or should not take government health insurance available to lawmakers and other federal employees.

After Harris reportedly made his comments, Democrats pounced, accusing Harris and other new Republicans of hypocrisy. 

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) penned a letter to GOP leaders late last year that demanded Republican members "walk that walk" and refuse their federally subsidized coverage.

"If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable healthcare, your members should walk that walk," the New York congressman wrote to incoming House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). "You cannot enroll in the very kind of coverage that you want for yourselves, and then turn around and deny it to Americans who don't happen to be members of Congress."

At least 16 GOP lawmakers, including Harris, have rejected federal health benefits. Harris joined House Republicans in January in voting to repeal the Democrats' healthcare reform law.

The Maryland freshman, who is a doctor, defeated Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in the 2010 midterms. Lawmakers had until March 3 to choose the government plan, according to Gannett.

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