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Ethan Rome

Ethan Rome

Posted: November 17, 2010 09:43 AM

After a day of appropriate flogging in the press and blogosphere for his callous and outrageous hypocrisy on health care, Congressman-elect Andy Harris should formally apologize to his constituents and denounce the Republican effort to repeal the new health care law.

On the campaign trail, Harris railed against government-sponsored health care and then the very first thing he did upon coming to Capitol Hill for freshman orientation was to ask for his. And when Harris was told he had to wait for his government-sponsored health care, he did what you'd expect all conservative Republicans who ran against health care to do: he got cranky.

The report of this flap was brought to us yesterday by Glenn Thrush in Politico:

A conservative Maryland physician elected to Congress on an anti-Obamacare platform surprised his fellow freshmen at a Monday orientation session by demanding to know why his government-subsidized health care plan takes a month to kick in.

Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland's Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 - 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.

Harris's hypocrisy was matched by his ignorance. As the story unfolded, it became clear that he was unfamiliar with COBRA. The congressman-elect also had no idea that people often have to wait for their health care to kick in after starting a new job.

Harris's cluelessness is shocking. It's not like knowing about COBRA, for example, is a "gotcha" question (like asking the first President Bush the price of milk or the second President Bush whether Europe was a country). It's pretty basic. It's even been in the news, such as when Congress extended it to help people during these tough economic times. And we're not talking about your run-of-the mill candidate for Congress. Harris has been a Maryland state senator for 12 years. He's a doctor. He works at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Yet he still didn't know that people often have to wait for their employer coverage after taking a new job. Congress "is the only employer I've worked for where you don't get coverage the first day you are employed," his spokeswoman recounted him saying in the closed-door orientation session. Had Harris spoken to any other human being in his district about their real life experience with health care or employment, he would have easily been able to bridge his knowledge gap.

As the Baltimore Sun kindly notes with considerable understatement, "Harris may have seemed particularly vulnerable on the health care front, given his background as a doctor and 12-year career as a lawmaker."

Harris is hardly bashful about his background in health care. He wrote an op-ed last year for the Daily Times of Salisbury by explaining: "As the only physician in the Maryland state Senate, I know how legislatures approach health care issues," Harris wrote. "Politicians are usually tone-deaf to those who know the most about the issue: patients and their health care providers."

Harris has set a new standard for being "tone-deaf." Most patients and providers know about things like COBRA and waiting periods to get on their employer-sponsored policy when they get a new job. It's exactly these kinds of gaps in coverage that the Affordable Care Act will fix.

Harris might have wanted to know more about health care before calling for repeal of the health care law that will bring coverage to thousands of constituents in his own district, and that eliminates the worst of the insurance company abuses, like pre-existing condition exclusions for everyone with health insurance.

Harris ought to know about the challenges people face with health care and insurance companies before campaigning against "socialized medicine," especially when he can't even wait 30 days to get the taxpayer-funded, employer-sponsored health care that comes with the privilege of serving in Congress.

Harris wants to join the ranks of the Republican repeal-mongers and stand for the insurance companies and against consumers. He wants to let insurance companies deny people coverage due to pre-existing conditions and drop people when they get sick. He wants to get rid of the small-business tax credit and repeal measures to cut down waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare.

If Republicans like Andy Harris have their way, the insurance companies will get the profits and we'll get the shaft. According to his web site, Harris has "A Proven Record of Courage & Common Sense." Andy Harris should demonstrate courage and common sense by apologizing to the people of Maryland and denouncing the repeal campaign now.

UPDATE (11/17/10 12:50pm EST):

Yesterday evening Harris attempted to clarify his point but only dug his hole deeper by his misunderstanding of health insurance and the new law.

While looking out for his own coverage, congressman-elect Harris' repeal efforts would deny the following benefits to families and businesses in his district:

  • Improving coverage for 498,000 residents with health insurance, by ending the worst of insurance company abuses such as eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions and annual and lifetime coverage limits.
  • Allowing 50,000 young adults to obtain coverage on their parents' insurance plans.
  • Strengthening Medicare for 119,000 beneficiaries, including reducing the cost of prescription drugs and eliminating waste fraud and abuse.
  • Giving tax credits and other assistance to up to 126,000 families and 17,900 small businesses to help them afford coverage.
  • Guaranteeing that 8,500 residents with pre-existing conditions can obtain coverage.
  • Extending coverage to 19,000 uninsured residents.
  • Protecting 1,100 families from bankruptcy due to unaffordable health care costs.
  • Providing millions of dollars in new funding for 47 community health centers.
  • Saving hospitals and other health care providers by $29 million annually, by reducing the cost of uncompensated care.
 

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