Liberals are having a good chuckle today over a great little item in Politico today about a freshman congressman. Apparently, anti-Obamacare crusader and physician Andy Harris threw a bit of a fit yesterday when told his government-subsidized health insurance wouldn’t begin until 28 days after he starts his new job on Capitol Hill. At an information session for new congressman, Harris felt the need to call out what he saw as an injustice.
“He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange. The benefits session, held behind closed doors, drew about 250 freshman members, staffers and family members to the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium late Monday morning.
Under the headline, “A Health Reform Opponent Has His Ox Gored,” Jonathan Chait says, “I think we finally have a working definition of a health insurance crisis–when a member of Congress has to go a whole month without coverage.”
But before anyone says or implies that Harris is a hypocrite for railing against government control of health care and then balking at the limits of his own government-provided health care, let’s pause for a moment of clarity. Harris will soon be a government employee – he’s not asking for government insurance just for the sake of it. The government will be his employer and most large employers subsidize coverage for their workers. In addition, federal employees like Harris get private insurance – they just purchase it through a federally operated exchange, something Harris actually supported early in his campaign:
Bring market forces to bear on health care insurers. Creating a health care “exchange,” one of the better ideas included in House Bill 3200, creates affordable, accessible and portable insurance for millions of Americans. An “exchange” would allow everyone to choose their health care insurance from a broad range of options — just like federal employees and Congress do right now — and allow their employer to help pay for it. Competition among insurers would bring down the cost of health care insurance, just as it brings down the cost of car or homeowners insurance. People would have a health care insurance policy they can call their own. They could choose one that exactly fits their families’ needs and their budgets, be able to take that coverage with them from job to job and be able to “fire” their insurance company if it doesn’t treat them well.
Still, it’s not easy to defend Harris on the issue of fairness. During the campaign, he hammered his incumbent Democratic opponent Frank Kratovil on health care reform even though Kratovil voted against the first House version of reform and the final bill.
The real story here, I think, is that Harris was apparently shocked to discover that the health insurance system does not work very well, even for gainfully employed workers. Oftentimes, Americans can’t go from job to job with seamless health insurance coverage. Those who, like Harris, experience a coverage gap – or who are self-employed – may have to shop in the individual market, which – without reform – is far more onerous and far more expensive. No one wants to go there if they don’t have to – hence, Harris’s protest. Plus, Harris’s frantic worry over going just four weeks without coverage makes a good case that the country should make an effort to expand coverage to at least some of the 50 million uninsured people in the U.S., no?