Indiana Republicans are criticizing Democratic gubernatorial nominee John Gregg for a lucrative perk he helped institute for members of the General Assembly when he was speaker of the House.
Gregg and former Republican Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton approved a lifetime health care benefit for retired lawmakers in 2002 that the Democrat still uses 14 years later, The Journal Gazette reported.
The state has paid more than $200,000 for covering Gregg and his family, with an additional $36,000 expected this year, legislative records show.
"He was a leader in this effort to give himself, his family and other legislators free health care for life at the expense of Indiana taxpayers, and even shamefully called the perk 'well deserved,'" said Jeff Cardwell, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party.
The benefit, inserted into law, allowed lawmakers who retire with six years and one day of service to lock in for life the employee cost for monthly health insurance premiums they were paying at retirement. Depending on which plan lawmakers elect, premiums can range from very little to 25 percent of the plan's cost. It also was made available to lawmakers' families and legislative employees.
Other state employees must pay 100 percent of all health care costs after they leave state government to stay in the insurance pool.
Gregg and his current wife pay premiums for the coverage, Gregg spokesman Jeff Harris said, but he would not say how much. Gregg's ex-wife and sons formerly were covered.
"The facts are that John Gregg and Republicans in the state legislature passed bipartisan legislation to update the health insurance lawmakers received," Harris said. "When he retired after 16 years of service in 2002, he enrolled in the plan and paid premiums to do so."
Since leaving the Legislature, Gregg has worked as an attorney and served as interim president of Vincennes University.
Harris also noted that Gov. Mike Pence has been on taxpayer-funded health care for much of his career as governor and as a congressman for 12 years.
Gregg declined to be interviewed about the perk. He said in a 2003 report that "I didn't have any problem signing off on it. I think it's a benefit that's deserved. It was already the law. We just hadn't gone ahead with it."
House and Senate records show 19 former House members and 10 former Senators are on the program. They include former Indiana Republican Chairman Murray Clark and former Republican House Speaker Paul Mannweiler, who has a severe neurological problem affecting his legs and said it was important for him to remain on the plan.
"If (the benefit) had been retained, it would have been a way to attract quality people, because obviously you don't do it for the pay," Mannweiler said. At the time, legislative base salary was $11,600.
Clark left the legislature in 2005 and was rejected for insurance following a hip replacement.
"It's not free. It's never been free," he said. "It's kind of expensive actually."
Overall, the program has cost taxpayers $6 million.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long eliminated the perk in 2006.