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TN rep. hails Obamacare, even though he may not ‘buy’ into it

By   /   January 23, 2014  /   No Comments

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, one Obamacare’s most passionate and ardent supporters, can take part in the Affordable Care Act, but apparently he has decided not to.

The Washington Post last month presented a list of various U.S. House and Senate members, along with their staff members, who take part — or don’t — in Obamacare’s Washington, D.C., exchange.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen

The list was incomplete and included only four of the 11 members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation, including Cohen, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R- Johnson City, and Republican senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

According to the newspaper, Cohen’s staff members participate in the exchange, but Cohen does not, instead preferring to receive health insurance benefits through the Tennessee State Government Employee Program, probably from his years in the state Legislature.

Cohen’s office did not return voice and email messages seeking comment.

Spokesmen for Alexander, Corker, and Roe, however, confirmed the information in the story — which said they and their staff members participate in the exchange — was accurate.

Tennessee Watchdog contacted the remaining seven members of the state’s congressional delegation. Staff members for all of them participate in the D.C. exchange. As for the representatives, only two of them, Stephen Fincher, R-Halls, and Diane Black, R-Gallatin — both oppose Obamacare — receive benefits through private means, according to their press secretaries.

Chris Carroll, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, the only member of the delegation other than Cohen who supports Obamacare, said Cooper participates in the exchange.

“Jim and every staff member who wants health insurance through the office must – and did – purchase it through the D.C. exchange,” Carroll said.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported, Cohen has praised the law repeatedly, including during a news conference with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius last year in Memphis.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Memphis Mayor AC Wharton promote Obamacare at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis.

“Change is hard. Get over it. Barack Obama is president, and the Affordable Care Act is the law,” Cohen said then, when Tennessee Watchdog tried to ask Sebelius about the law’s negative side effects.

Debby Koch, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Benefits Administration, wouldn’t comment on Cohen’s case specifically but the said anyone participating in the state’s Government Employee Program, even a former member of the Legislature, has the option to drop out any time in favor of something else — such as Obamacare.

“Any senator or representative, and upon completion of a term of office, may choose to continue coverage by paying the portion of premium required,” Koch said.

“As long as they pay the monthly premiums they can remain on the plan for as long as they want to.  If a retiree drops coverage, he or she may not re-enroll in the state plan again.”

Koch did not say how much the state contributes on an annual basis to Cohen’s health insurance account.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Chris Butler is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org based in Nashville. Contact him at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org and follow him on Facebook at "Chris-Butler-WriterJournalist" or on Twitter at cdbutler1204.

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