Rep. Andy Harris meets with constituents on health care, the bay, other issues

Rep. Harris meets with constituents on health care, the Bay, other issues Saturday at Harford County offices.

Health care dominated discussions between Rep. Andy Harris and several dozen constituents who met with the congressman Saturday at his Bel Air district office.

The small-group sessions that heavily focused on the future of the Affordable Care Act came in the midst of criticism from some who said the Republican congressman had not provided more opportunities for them to discuss their concerns since President Donald Trump took office.

"We're concerned citizens, and we don't feel like anybody is listening," said Irene Whalen, of Bel Air, who met with Harris and is part of a local chapter of Indivisible, a group that opposes the Trump administration.

At Saturday's meetings, many discussed health care, but some also asked questions about the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the future of the Environmental Protection Agency, and whether he would support appointing a special prosecutor to investigate alleged Russian interference in the election also came up.

As the small groups met with Harris for about 10 minutes each, about 30 people stood outside his office, chanting, "Health care is a human right," which could be heard in the lobby of the second-floor office. Some held signs, including one that read, "Together We Will."

Harris, who represents the heavily Republican 1st Congressional District, has repeatedly expressed opposition to the Affordable Care Act. During Saturday's discussions, he expressed support for reform.

Republicans released a plan last week to replace the Affordable Care Act, which could threaten coverage for more than 400,000 Marylanders, according to Rep. John Sarbanes. The Baltimore County Democrat sent a letter Tuesdayto Gov. Larry Hogan asking him to push against repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

The proposed GOP plan would put caps on Medicaid spending and replace federal subsidies for private insurance with tax credits that could be smaller for many consumers.

Eileen Siple, who lives in Harford County, expressed concerns about Americans losing health care coverage, including coverage for her 29-year-old son, Larry Siple.

Siple, a former special-education teacher, said she now stays at home to take care of her disabled son, who relies on a number of medications that are covered by Medicaid. She said she's worried that he and others like him could suffer under the new plan, along with elderly Americans.

"I need to know nobody is going to lose their health insurance," she told Harris.

Harris said under the Republican plan, individuals with disabilities would continue to receive coverage under Medicaid. Under the Affordable Care Act, he said, her son was pitted against others because an expanded population was receiving coverage.

"It puts states in the position of deciding whether to continue funding Larry or the expansion population," he told Siple. The new plan would ensure that people like her son would continue to receive funding and enhanced benefits, he said.

But Siple pressed Harris about coverage for those without serious health conditions, such as young people who might not receive coverage through employment.

Harris said he doesn't think the government should require that everyone buy coverage.

After the meeting, Siple expressed concern that the new health care act is another effort by the Trump administration to change legislation passed under Obama. "There's this rush," she said. "It's scaring people."

But while many expressed concerns to Harris about the Affordable Care Act's repeal, other groups have pressed for his support.

The American Action Network, a conservative nonprofit, announced Friday that it was launching TV ads in Harris' district to urge him to replace Obamacare with the Republican plan.

"It's time for conservatives to unite behind President Trump and Speaker [Paul] Ryan to pass the American Health Care Act. This bill gives conservatives the opportunity to deliver on their promise to repeal and replace the disaster that is Obamacare," Courtney Alexander, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a statement.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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