COLUMBUS (TDB) -- As a retired congressman, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland remains eligible for the Federal Health Benefit Program, which is the U.S. government's blue chip group health care plan. Uncle Sam covers about 72 percent of the average monthly premium, with the rest deducted from a worker's paycheck. Strickland did not shift his health insurance package to state coverage when he took office in January, and stayed with the federal program. But he voluntarily pays the full cost out of his own pocket -- $697 per month. The governor's spokesman, Keith Dailey, said his boss has never allowed Uncle Sam to cover its share of the premium.
"He reimburses the government for its share. He pays for his own health care out of pocket. He writes a check to the U.S. Treasury every month to reimburse what it spends on his health care."
Strickland's plan covers himself and Ohio's First Lady, Frances Strickland. He's been writing the checks since 1992, when he was first elected from OH-06, a southern Ohio congressional district that is mostly in Appalachia. Many residents of the region cannot afford health insurance, or lack coverage through their jobs. Strickland promised when he was running that he would not allow the government to pay for his insurance until everyone in his district had coverage. Of course, many still does not have coverage today and he has been living up to his promise.
"He had initially made that pledge, and maintains it now," Dailey said.
The Daily Bellwether brought up the topic of the governor's health care because he has been critical of Republicans in Congress who voted against S-CHIP, the government-subsidized health care plan for children that President Bush vetoed last month. But it is clear that Strickland has put his money where his mouth is, and won't taken benefits that all others cannot receive. The Federal Employee Health Benefit plan is operated by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which negotiates with several private insurers for lower group coverage rates.
Out of pure curiosity, I asked Dailey who pays the food bill at the governor's mansion. The taxpayers? He said there is a manager who runs the property and buys the groceries. Strickland reimburses the cost of $300 to $350 per month by writing a check every quarter. He doesn't pay if there is an official event -- either the sponsoring organization pays the cost, or a non-profit foundation that was set up years ago to pay costs at the executive residence covers the bill. Dailey said Strickland tries to be frugal. Often he makes his own lunch and brings it to work at his State House office.
"He brown bags. Sometimes he makes his lunch and brings it to work, and sometimes Frances does it. It's not really a bag, it's sort of a reuseable bag."
He said the governor doesn't carry a lunch pail or bucket to work.