CHESTERTOWN — Republican Andy Harris is facing a challenge for his seat representing Maryland’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives from Democrat Mia Mason.
Harris and Mason sat down for individual interviews during which they were asked the same set of questions. Mason’s interview was conducted Sept. 16. Harris sat for his interview Sept. 25.
Over the last couple weeks, we have published their responses to those questions in a series of articles. Previous topics included economic development, COVID-19, racism, and agriculture and environmentalism. This is the final article in our series.
The 1st District comprises the entirety of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties.
Early voting in Maryland runs Oct. 26 through Nov. 2. Election day is Nov. 3.
Question: Health care, especially as it pertains to the loss of medical services in rural areas is an issue on the Eastern Shore and nationally. What do you think needs to be done to address the challenges prevalent with respect to rural health care especially as it pertains to lack of available coverage in some areas?
Harris: There are a couple of things we have to do. It is true that it is hard to get health providers into rural areas. We have to put programs in place at the state and national level that encourage providers to work in a rural area.
The first thing we need to do is make sure our federally qualified health centers are fully funded. These are the centers throughout the Eastern Shore that provide healthcare, not only to people who are at the lower end of the economic spectrum, but really everyone who cannot find another source of healthcare.
The second thing we need to do is we need to make sure we don’t provide incentives for healthcare providers to work in urban areas. Unfortunately, through the Medicare program we actually provide that incentive by paying less to providers who work in a rural area. This doesn’t make much sense. I understand the cost of living is higher in an urban area, but what you are doing is you are attracting healthcare providers to go to that urban area because of higher rates of payment. We have to change Medicare policy on that.
The third thing we have to do is we have to establish, preserve and expand the programs that provide student loan paybacks for healthcare providers that are willing to work in an underserved or rural area. This is very important, it is very significant because without these programs we would have even fewer providers.
The last thing we have to do is realize is that if we are not training enough Americans to do the job of providing healthcare, then we have to relax the rules to allow healthcare providers in sectors of the healthcare economy where we are lacking to come into U.S. and participate in those rural communities. There are programs in the Department of State that do that. We have to make sure those programs are maintained as long as necessary until we can train enough Americans to fulfill those needs.
Rural healthcare environment is very different from the healthcare environment in an urban setting.
Mason: Kent County had a hospital that closed down. The hardest thing for them in Kent County is that if you are in Rock Hall it is a two-hour drive to get anywhere to actual community services. (Editor’s note: University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown has not “closed down,” though some health care services previously offered there have been shifted to other UM Shore Regional Health facilities.)
The Eastern Shore only has one major provider besides parts of Medicare, if you are of age to receive it. I think that with our stepping stones to build Medicare for all, we can provide incentives that protect our pre-existing conditions, protects our women, protects our veterans, protects our mental health and allows us to actually build more medical resources out there with the University of Maryland so that we can take care of everyone on the Eastern Shore and northern counties. Because we want to make sure that they have a price point per year that is affordable for their whole family. It beats having healthcare that is a la carte for your dental, your vision, your ER, your hospice or cancer care. I think expanding Medicare and providing those Social Security benefits to everyone will actually be wonderful to have.
I am a veteran, I have Tricare for life, it is considered Medicare and I know that when I turn 65 I will have to get Medicare Part A, Part B, but by then I want to make sure there is no part A, B, C, or D, it is Medicare for all and it is at a price point that we can all afford per year. Because if I can afford $600 per year I am pretty sure our voters can afford $600 per year. I think HR 1384 brings that to light especially with making sure our healthcare providers aren’t in this for the profit, but for actually taking care of us.
The only health insurance provider that I know of on the Eastern Shore is Blue Cross/Blue Shield, there is no AETNA, there is no Kaiser, there are no other available services unless you are on state aid. So providing Medicare for all will help the nearly 50,000 that are currently on the ACA and will expand upon that to include maybe 100,000 to 200,000, which is a majority of the Eastern Shore so that they can all have health insurance regardless of being employed or not. I think that would help us out and would ease burdens on an employer for providing healthcare insurance. Now an individual will be able to have healthcare for all of their family at a fixed price point per year.
Question: What other issues would you like to discuss that you feel are relevant to the district, or your candidacy?
Mason: There are several. We briefly talked about the racism and Black Lives Matter protests. I think there is a need for police reform, for their budgeting, but that is handled at the state level. I believe that advocating for that is important.
I believe our infrastructure is deteriorating. We understand that the third Bay bridge proposal is coming up here. We must include a light rail option or a public transportation option on this third Bay bridge so that we can go from D.C. to Ocean City with ease of transport and provide opportunities and jobs for those who commute to Washington, D.C. or the Western Shore. For those who wish to stay here on the Eastern Shore and live and recreate on our Chesapeake Bay, I think having that development just along Route 50 will help everyone on the Eastern Shore for manufacturing, jobs and opportunities over the next 100 years.
Going into climate change, we must think of it as climate recovery. It is beyond the breaking point now and we must implement a plan to protect our shore, because that waterway is eroding our shores. We need to make sure the Chesapeake Bay is fully funded by the EPA to make sure our clean water is protected from industrial practices and residents who still have outdated infrastructure and septic tanks by hooking them up to a main water line and drainage line. That should all bring jobs to the Eastern Shore and give a boost to our economy.
This should also allow our fishermen see healthier crabs, oysters, fish, you name it, they are going to reap the rewards for it.
Harris: As a veteran, we need to make sure that we continue the progress we have made to provide adequate care to our veterans. I know that in the last four years we have added Veteran’s Choice which is very important to our veterans on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Prior to that, (veterans) had to wait long times or travel long distances to get their healthcare. Now they have a choice to get that healthcare locally or to go to a Veteran’s Administration hospital across the bridge.
We have to continue on what I call the “reasonable regulatory pathway” so that we don’t over-regulate our agriculture industry out of business or our poultry industry out of business because these are very important industries on the Eastern Shore. We live in a global economic environment where if we handicap these industries through over-regulation we will lose these industries on the Eastern Shore.
We need to make sure we have enough temporary work visas. I am proud to be the head of the H2B coalition in the House of Representatives that makes sure that when we can’t find Americans for temporary work in the 1st Congressional District, most importantly summer jobs, we will have temporary farm workers come in to take those jobs. Those temporary farm workers go home after the season. They pay taxes. They pay payroll taxes. They pay Medicare and Social Security taxes even though they will never receive Medicare or Social Security. These are win-win employees for the district and we have to make sure we take care of them.
Finally, we have to make sure that since Second Amendment rights are so important to rural areas like the Eastern Shore, we have to make sure we don’t impair anyone’s Second Amendment rights to defend themselves with a firearm if necessary. I have always been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights.
It has been an honor to serve the 1st Congressional District for nine and a half years now. Sitting on the Appropriations Committee, on the Agriculture Sub-Committee is important for protecting those bedrock industries of our Eastern Shore economy, agriculture and poultry. Without those two industries the economy would collapse because so many areas of the economy depend on those two industries.