As Jack Kingston runs for Senate in Georgia, the veteran Republican congressman has needled his GOP primary opponents over the issue of taxpayer-funded health insurance subsides.
"Jack," his campaign wrote in a memo last fall, "is the only candidate in this race that has voted to eliminate taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies for Members of Congress and their staffs."
But what the memo didn't mention—and what Kingston doesn't talk about on the trail—is that Georgia taxpayers are footing as much as 75 percent of the bill for his own health insurance. That's because Kingston, 58, receives health coverage through a plush package that has allowed him access to a lifetime of subsidized health benefits due to his past service in the Georgia statehouse.
Former state legislators pay "approximately 25 percent of the cost" of their health insurance, said Pamela Keene, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Community Health.
"The rest is paid by the state," she said.
Former legislators are eligible after eight years of service, Keene said. Kingston meets that minimum; he was in office from 1985 to 1993.
Kingston has received this state-supported health insurance for more than two decades, since the month he joined the Congress in January 1993, according to financial disclosure forms he has filed with the House.
The Kingston campaign saw nothing hypocritical in the congressman's acceptance of health subsides from his time in the Legislature.
"The State of Georgia health care plan is administered [in] Georgia. He has no vote on the rules of the plan and abides by those established by state lawmakers," said Kingston spokesman Chris Crawford in an email. "He chose to stay on the Georgia plan when he first came to Congress because he did not want any part of the Potomac lifestyle."
Kingston is locked in one of the hottest and most crowded Senate Republican primaries in the nation. The Georgia race features five top-tier candidates including Kingston; two physician-congressmen, Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun; former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel; and businessman David Perdue, a cousin of the former governor.
The winner is expected to face Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, in what most analysts believe is the Democratic Party's best shot at winning a Republican-held Senate seat in 2014.
The GOP primary will be held on May 20, with a runoff two months later.
The early part of the race has turned on who opposes Obamacare the most, even as all the leading Republicans have vowed repeal. Gingrey has promised to repeal the law "or go home." Broun has labeled Obamacare the "flaw of the land." And Handel featured it in her first radio ad.
"Only in Washington can congressmen campaign against Obamacare while receiving special treatment and thousands in taxpayer subsidies that the rest of us don't get," Handel said in the ad.
To push back against such attacks, Kingston has said that he doesn't accept federal health insurance. He glosses over his taxpayer-funded state health benefits.
"Now I want to say this: I actually have never taken the federal health care. So I have never taken this subsidy which is the center of the controversy," he said in a radio interview last year. Kingston went on to say that "ending that subsidy would be helpful."
This article appears in the February 21, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.