Sta­tus quo in Congress

Amer­i­cans suf­fer while law­mak­ers are in the dark

Modern Healthcare - - Opinions Editorials - NEIL MCLAUGH­LIN Man­ag­ing Edi­tor

Notes on the news:

If you spend most of your time out­side the in­side-theBelt­way com­mu­ni­ca­tions loop, you might have missed the com­mo­tion con­cern­ing Andy Har­ris, a newly elected mem­ber of Congress.

Har­ris, a Repub­li­can from Mary­land, raised some eye­brows at a re­cent ori­en­ta­tion ses­sion in Washington for new law­mak­ers. Ac­cord­ing to a story first re­ported by Politico, Har­ris asked dur­ing an em­ployee ben­e­fits brief­ing why he would have to wait a month af­ter tak­ing of­fice for his health in­surance cov­er­age to kick in. “This is the only em­ployer I have ever worked for where you don’t get cov­er­age the first day you are em­ployed,” he was quoted as say­ing.

He then asked if he could ob­tain some kind of gov­ern­mentspon­sored in­surance to keep him cov­ered be­tween leav­ing his em­ployer and be­com­ing el­i­gi­ble for his con­gres­sional plan.

A num­ber of peo­ple in the me­dia and pol­i­tics found this to be ironic be­cause Har­ris is a physi­cian (an anes­the­si­ol­o­gist) who prac­tices at Johns Hopkins and sev­eral hos­pi­tals on the East­ern Shore of Mary­land. Al­though Johns Hopkins Hos­pi­tal does cover its em­ploy­ees from their first day on the job (good for Johns Hopkins), many com­pa­nies don’t. In fact, a lot of em­ploy­ers don’t of­fer health ben­e­fits at all, es­pe­cially in the wake of the Great Re­ces­sion. One might think that af­ter serv­ing a dozen years as a Mary­land state sen­a­tor, Har­ris might have heard about this.

Some also found it cu­ri­ous that Har­ris didn’t know about ex­tend­ing cov­er­age un­der CO­BRA. And they found it odd that he would in­quire about govern­ment-spon­sored in­surance af­ter cam­paign­ing to re­peal the health re­form law en­acted ear­lier this year. (The govern­ment-spon­sored plan he men­tioned sounds a lot like the pub­lic op­tion.)

“As a physi­cian, Andy has the ex­pe­ri­ence to un­der­stand the com- plex­i­ties of health­care re­form and yet the com­mon sense to know a govern­ment takeover won’t work,” Har­ris’ web­site proclaims.

Of course he knows this. And the me­dia and the po­lit­i­cal types shouldn’t be fooled by Har­ris faux clue­less­ness. He is a sly fox who is aim­ing to ad­vance his ca­reer by prov­ing he is in with the con­gres­sional in-crowd. By pre­tend­ing that he is out-of-touch with the lives of or­di­nary Amer­i­cans, that he is ego­cen­tric and en­ti­tle­ment-minded, and that he is chock full of chutz­pah, Har­ris is try­ing to per­suade his new con­gres­sional col­leagues that he is one of them. A per­son this Machi­avel­lian is des­tined for lead­er­ship on Capi­tol Hill. Look out, John Boehner.

Out­side of Dis­ney­land on the Po­tomac, Amer­i­cans cope with real dif­fi­cul­ties con­cern­ing health cov­er­age. The Com­mon­wealth Fund’s an­nual sur­vey of in­ter­na­tional con­sumer at­ti­tudes (Nov. 22, p. 17) iden­ti­fied what the au­thors called “glar­ing gaps” in the U.S. sys­tem con­cern­ing cost, qual­ity, ac­cess and the rel­a­tive sim­plic­ity of in­surance plans.

Only 70% of those sur­veyed in the U.S. said they were con­fi­dent of re­ceiv­ing the most ef­fec­tive treat­ment, de­spite the fact that Amer­i­can per-capita health costs are nearly dou­ble the next-most ex­pen­sive sys­tem in the study (Switzer­land). Costs in the U.S. were so high that 28% of peo­ple sur­veyed said they chose not to go to the doc­tor within the past year, an­other cat­e­gory in which the U.S. scored the high­est. Some 31% of U.S. re­spon­dents re­ported hav­ing prob­lems with health in­surance. The next high­est rat­ing in that cat­e­gory was France with 23%. The United King­dom and Swe­den came in at 5% and 4%, re­spec­tively.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion and Amer­ica’s Health In­surance Plans blamed each other for the prob­lems.

Well, peo­ple shouldn’t worry about these dif­fi­cul­ties. Congress will fix ev­ery­thing.

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