Published November 17, 2010
A Maryland congressman-elect who defeated a moderate Democrat in large part over the health care law debate, said Wednesday that depictions of him losing it over a question about his new congressional health care coverage are wholly inaccurate.
Politico and other outlets described Republican Rep.-elect Andy Harris as throwing a bit of a hissy-fit earlier this week when he found out he'd have to wait a month for his federal health care coverage to kick in.
But Harris said he was merely asking a process question about transitioning from his current coverage to the federal plan.
"It was a simple question any employee should ask: Oh and by the way, how do I get my health insurance to be seamless?" he told FoxNews.com in a telephone interview.
Saying he had just gotten his first lesson in the ways of Washington, Harris said he was attending a closed-door human resources meeting when he asked when he would be eligible for his Federal Employee Health Benefits Package.
Though the new Congress begins work on Jan. 3, the federal plan states that representatives and their staffs will not get coverage until Feb. 1.
"The way the FEHBP works, if you come in any time during the pay period, you are eligible at the next pay period," Harris said. "There are some employers where you have some kind of waiting period, but this is just the bureaucracy doesn't cover you until the next pay period.
"I just wanted an answer, is this gap true. Yes, because of the pay period. Can we pre-buy the coverage? And the answer was no," he said. "I didn't even say I want that coverage. The words 'I want it' didn't come out of my mouth."
Harris is an anesthesiologist and former Maryland state senator who has the choice of going on a temporary Cobra plan through his position at Johns Hopkins Medical Center or keeping his state health benefits, which he surmised are "probably better" than what he'll get.
The characterization of his reaction, he said, was "blown out of proportion." Harris conjectured that the depiction of him was provided by a Democratic staffer in attendance.
"There was no flying off the handle, it was just a simple question answered," he said. "There was no reporter in the room, the reporter depended on a Democratic staffer's report. It was an off-the-record, closed human resource meeting."
Though Harris has only hired one staffer so far, that aide will also have to find his own insurance for the gap in coverage.
"The best solution would be for the federal government to say, 'Yes, we do provide coverage and it's from day one,'" he said.
The "irony is that here the federal government requires that all these employers provide" coverage, and yet the federal government doesn't provide it for his own, he said. "It should be changed so that the federal government should cover you from the first day you're employed."
But that doesn't mean Harris thinks a public option is the solution to temporary gaps in coverage for Americans transitioning between jobs.
"I'm opposed to Obamacare. I'm opposed to a mandate of any kind on health insurance. This was purely about a technical question."
Harris said he also found it odd that he wasn't allowed to pre-buy insurance so that he could have it from day one.
"They won't even sell you the insurance even if it were out of your own pocket, which is strange," he said.
Harris said he doesn't know if he can cover any staff gaps through his congressional allowance. A call to the Office of Personnel Management for clarification on using member allowances for interim coverage was not immediately returned.