REPLACING ONE TAXPAYER-FINANCED HEALTH PLAN WITH ANOTHER…. Congressional Democrats have gained some traction this year pressing their Republican colleagues on their participation in Congress’ health plan. The point isn’t subtle — the same GOP officials who are trying to take health care benefits away from their constituents are allowing their constituents to finance their health care benefits.

A small handful of Republicans have made an effort to appear consistent on this, turning down the government-subsidized coverage available to all lawmakers. But within this small group, Rep. Leonard Lance (R) of New Jersey is fairly unique.

A progressive political action committee criticized Lance for taking advantage of taxpayer-funded insurance. Lance’s office was outraged and explained that the conservative congressman is not participating in the federal plan.

And that’s when it gets funny.

[I]t turns out he receives medical care for practically nothing, thanks to the taxpayers of New Jersey. Lance receives family health coverage that is free except for co-pays, the state Department of Treasury confirmed Friday. The former state senator, assemblyman and Kean administration official qualified for retirement in 2006, his 25th year of service. He retired in January 2009, when he moved on to Washington, and enrolled in the state’s free health plan for retirees.

The family plan Lance is enrolled in is the most expensive of the 10 options available. His coverage costs $1,906.42 per month, or $22,877.04 per year.

Yes, this is the guy who hates big government and wants to make sure struggling families go without government-subsidized coverage. Lance picked the most expensive plan he could find for his family, and is more than happy to have his constituents pick up the tab. (These are, by the way, some of the same state-based benefits Republican Gov. Chris Christie is eager to cut.)

And he’s awfully pleased with himself for turning down the federal insurance plan.

Greg Sargent added, Rep. Lance’s chief of staff appears to realize that by protesting the ad attacking him, he’s only created more problems. The aide told the Courier-Post: ‘I should have kept my mouth shut.’”

Too late.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.