Doctor-lawmaker takes ‘hippocritical’ oath

He campaigned to repeal 'obamacare,' but panics at the prospect of 28 days without government-run health care

For 28 days, newly elected Maryland Rep. Andy Harris will be able to honestly tell the 761,000 people in his state who have no health coverage that he truly can identify with their plight.

Harris – a Republican doctor whose campaign included a pledge to help repeal “Obamacare” – is apparently upset that his new government-issued health insurance doesn’t kick in until 28 days after he’s sworn in. What’s more, say observers at the closed-door benefits meeting for incoming Congressmen, Harris asked whether he could buy health insurance from the government to cover those 28 days. “Holy public option, Batman!”

But Harris, an anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, won’t have to go a day without insurance. He should be able to extend his current coverage through COBRA, another – you guessed it – federally mandated program. You know – the kind of Big Government program that undercuts market forces and makes conservatives bristle?

Harris’ victory didn’t dramatically weaken Congressional support for health care reform. (The Blue Dog Democrat Harris replaced was already a vote against reform. In fact, we like some of the ideas Harris penned in an op-ed about how Congress could fix the health care system.

He floats ideas such as using technology to reduce costs and making public the price of procedures so savvy consumers can shop around. And his support of one of the central thrusts of “Obamacare” – health insurance exchanges – gives us hope that instead of trying to repeal reform, Harris – freed from the rhetoric of the campaign trail – might be willing to help improve it.

We see the reforms already passed as work in progress. We reject any efforts to repeal them, or to “repeal and replace” them.  Instead, we’d prefer to see additional efforts to contain costs and improve access. The bill as passed takes a big whack – over time – out of the national deficit, so we’d encourage those who promise to “reform” the existing reforms to remember a phrase that should be familiar to Dr. Harris: “First, do no harm.” Our fear is that provisions of the legislation that expand the pool of insured and rein in corporate profits will be the provisions first targeted for a slow, painful death.

Unfortunately, it seems that the brief respites between elections – a time when real work could get done – are now just memories from a bygone era. We took the election of Barack Obama as loud, clear message from the voters that America could no longer afford being held hostage to partisan posturing and foot dragging. From our view, the President has held out his hand again and again to coax reluctant Republicans to join in the process of health care reform, but the opposition seemed hardened in its resolve – and its hearts.

Harris has some temporary egg on his face from this kerfuffle, but this is a human moment too often not seen in our elected officials: a working man – and a physician, no less – concerned with keeping his family insured.

Could this offer a glimmer of hope for uninsured Americans who are losing hope that Congress is deaf to their condition? Or will it be noted as a sign of individual weakness and filed away, a moment of honesty that the party will use in 2012 to cull Harris from the herd with a Tea Party challenge?

We really are trying to be less cynical. Perhaps Dr. Harris can help.

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