Cotton, Pryor to forgo federal health insurance contributions


LITTLE ROCK — U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton said in a speech Friday that he will not accept a “special subsidy” to help pay his insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act and challenged U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor to do the same.

A spokesman for Pryor said there is no special subsidy for members of Congress but said Pryor will forgo the federal contribution that he has received in the past.

Cotton, R-Dardanelle, the presumptive GOP challenger to the Democratic incumbent’s 2014 re-election bid, said in a talk to the Political Animals Club, “Despite the fact that congressmen and senators make $174,000 a year, many multiples of the ceiling for subsidies, they will still receive a 75 percent approximate subsidy from the federal government for their health insurance on the exchanges, which no other American will receive.”

Cotton said he will not take the federal benefit.

“Any senator, especially senators like Mark Pryor who voted for this law, cast the decisive vote, should be joining us in rejecting our subsidy,” he said.

Pryor spokesman Michael Teague said Friday the benefit Cotton called a “subsidy” is an employer contribution similar to the contributions that most Americans who have job-related insurance receive. He said the federal contribution, previously available through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, is available to members of Congress who buy insurance through the Washington, D.C., insurance exchange, but Pryor will not use the D.C. exchange.

“He wanted to have the same experience as Arkansans are going to have, so he’s going to go on the Arkansas exchange,” Teague said. “He will not be receiving the employer match that he has now.”

PolitiFact has rated Cotton’s claim that a special Obamacare subsidy exists for Congress “false.” It has also rated various claims that this or that lawmaker cast the deciding vote on the law as false or mostly false.

Talking to reporters Friday, Cotton declined to state a position on the so-called “private option,” Arkansas’ plan to use federal Medicaid money to help low-income workers buy private insurance through the insurance marketplace.

“It’s a state issue,” Cotton said.

The private option is an alternative, approved by the Obama administration, to the proposal in the Affordable Care Act that states expand their Medicaid rolls. One of the leading proponents of the private option in the state Legislature is Cotton’s political director, Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison.

Asked by an audience member if opponents of the law known as Obamacare should leave it alone and allow it to fall under its own weight, Cotton said he has heard that argument, but he has chosen to support measures addressing specific aspects of the law — such as a measure that would allow people who bought insurance in the individual market to keep their plans — because he has a duty to protect his constituents.

“I don’t look at it as a political matter,” he said.

An audience member asked Cotton why he voted against the farm bill. Cotton eventually voted for a version that stripped out funding for food stamps, but Pryor has criticized him for not supporting the initial farm bill and said the move alienated Cotton from Arkansas farmers.

The initial bill “was almost a trillion dollars in spending, 80 percent of which was food stamps, a program that’s doubled under Barack Obama and almost quadrupled over the last decade,” Cotton said. “It didn’t have adequate reforms, it didn’t protect Arkansas taxpayers.”

Pryor is scheduled to speak to the club Dec. 4.