Status quo in Congress
Americans suffer while lawmakers are in the dark
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.