A right-wing Maryland medical doctor, elected to the House after campaigning against "Obamacare," shocked everyone at a closed orientation session on Capitol Hill this week by putting up a fuss when he learned his government health care plan will take a month after he is sworn in to take effect.
Republican Andy Harris, who earns a comfortable living injecting countless Medicare patients with pain medicine just before they are operated on, threw a major tantrum about having to wait for his government-run health care plan.
Harris, who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil in Maryland, was told that his health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1, 2011, 28 days after his Jan.3 swearing-in. Congressional staffers who saw the exchange reported what they saw to various media outlets.
"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 one staffer.
The closed-door session on benefits drew 250 newly elected representatives and their family members to the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium Nov. 15.
The aide said he was struck by the fact that the good doctor-turned-congressman then made a request for something that sounded a lot like the public option he had denounced as a "gateway to socialism." Harris asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap!
"This is the only employer I've ever worked for where you don't get coverage the first day you are employed," he said.
Prior to his election to Congress, Harris was a Maryland state senator who worked at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and several hospitals in that region.
Harris was either unaware that under COBRA law he can pay a premium to extend his current health insurance an additional month or, if aware, not happy to have to go the route taken by millions who lose or change jobs.
Making the hypocrisy even more blatant, Harris relentlessly attacked Kratovil on health care throughout the campaign. The fact that Kratovil was a conservative Democrat who twice voted against health care reform apparently made no difference to Harris.
The doctor tried to excuse this in a campaign statement issued just two days before the election, reading, "Although he voted against Obamacare [sic], Mr. Kratovil refuses to commit to its repeal. Dr. Harris understands that the Obama-Pelosi-Hoyer agenda threatens to pull the plug on America's long-term health. In Washington I will never vote to raise taxes, I will fight to repeal health care reform, and I will work to balance the budget."
On the Senate side, meanwhile, the opening guns of the GOP attack on healthcare were expected to be fired Nov. 16, when Republican senators on the Finance Committee planned to interrogate Donald Berwick, the president's pick to run the government's Center for Medicare and Medicare Services.
Berwick is a recess appointee whose nomination by the president was held up because he has, in the past, said he admires Britain's National Health Service. Republicans, during the summer, called him "Obama's rationer in chief."
Ever since his recess appointment by Obama in July, Republicans have demanded Berwick appear for a hearing.
Republicans have told the press they would go after Berwick for his "professed love" for Britain's health system, and demand clarification of his role in shaping the system in that country. Queen Elizabeth II granted him an honorary knighthood in 2005 for his decades-long effort to improve the system - an honor that makes Republicans suspicious.
"He'll be asked about what exactly he did for the U.K. government to be knighted," Mark Hayes, a recent health policy adviser to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told Politico. "For him to have that level of recognition conveyed on him, people will want to know that."