Harris' question on benefits stirs national health care debate
Many Marylanders go without insurance, advocates say
Supporters of the Affordable Care Act that Congress passed earlier this year are criticizing U.S. Rep.-elect Andy Harris as a hypocrite for asking why there was a delay in his government-funded health insurance coverage for him and his family when he campaigned on rolling back the legislation.
Politico reported on Nov. 15 reported that, during an orientation meeting for newly-elected representatives and staff members, Harris asked why he had to wait almost a month for health insurance coverage to begin for himself and his family after he is sworn in.
Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap, a plan similar to the public option that was criticized by Harris and others during the election campaign. That option would have allowed the public the choice of buying insurance from the government.
The remark has drawn national attention to Harris, an anesthesiologist, who defeated U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Dist. 1).
A letter circulated by U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Dist 4) of Fort Washington and signed by 35 Democrats, criticizes Harris for worrying more about his health insurance concerns while he campaigned to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would increase the number of people with access to health insurance for the first time.
"If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk," the letter states. "You cannot enroll in the very kind of coverage that you want for yourselves, and then turn around and deny it to Americans who don't happen to be Members of Congress."
Harris and his spokeswoman, Anna Nix, did not return repeated requests for comment.
In a statement to Politico, Nix said Harris raised the issue to show how inefficient government-provided health insurance is that it takes nearly a month to obtain coverage.
A 2010 Kaiser Family Research Foundation report showed that, in the private sector, the average length of time that it took for a new hire to receive health insurance coverage when it was offered was two months and for a third of new hires, it took three months or more until they were insured under their employer's benefits.
Harris should stand by his principles and buy his insurance for himself and his family in the private market instead of accepting health insurance as a benefit from the federal government, said Matthew Weinstein, Baltimore regional director of Progressive Maryland, a grassroots advocacy group.
"It's such hypocrisy," Weinstein said. "There are plenty of members of Congress who turned down raises. If he really believes the government should not be subsidizing health care, he should turn it down and go into the private sector for his insurance like so many Americans have to do."