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Harris talks Medicare with Elkton seniors

Rep. Andy Harris told a room full of seniors in Elkton on Thursday that current federal spending has put the nation on an unsustainable path and that part of the solution must come from a program that is especially dear to many people over 65: Medicare.

The Baltimore County Republican who represents the Eastern Shore and portions of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties, said at town hall-style meeting with constituents that, "there's simply no way we can afford to deliver it the way we do now."

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"This is really about the future of our country," Harris told about 60 people at the Elkton Senior Center. "You can't solve this problem by taxing your way out of it."

Other Republican lawmakers have come under fire at town hall meetings across the country for a plan, passed by the House of Representatives on April 15, that would trim Medicare costs by giving seniors a subsidy they could use to purchase private insurance. Conservative Florida Rep. Allen West, for instance, was heckled this week at a meeting with constituents.

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Members of Congress are holding the meetings during a two-week congressional recess that ends this week.

Maryland's two Republicans in the House, Harris and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, voted for the budget bill. The state's six Democrats voted against it. The measure has little chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Despite the attention some GOP lawmakers have received on the issue, Harris faced a largely friendly crowd Thursday. Many who asked questions seemed to be concerned Washington isn't doing enough to address the budget deficits.

Robert Porter, 83, said that doctors should focus on preventive care to reduce medical costs. But he argued that the medical establishment, which he described as having a "stranglehold" on care, isn't doing enough. Harris, an anesthesiologist, said that patients who quit smoking or lose weight should pay lower insurance premiums.

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Mary Kay Hannon, a 57-year-old who drove from Chester for the meeting, was the only person to ask directly about Medicare. She questioned whether the subsidy called for in the Republican plan would be enough to cover the cost of insurance.

"I learned a lot here," Hannon said after the meeting. "I don't think I'll be able to get Congressman Harris to agree with me, but I got him to at least listen."

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