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Thursday, November 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Stealthy Senate undermines own health care bill

When the U.S. House of Representatives rushed through the American Health Care Act, the common belief was that the Senate wouldn’t make those mistakes.

Wrong.

The task of writing the Senate version has been assigned to 13 senators, all Republicans, who are meeting in secret. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he wants the full Senate to take a vote before July 4.

A vote on what? Great question. It seems only a baker’s dozen on Capitol Hill can answer that question and they aren’t talking. The secret is more closely guarded than a lot of national security information stamped “classified.”

That doesn’t sound like a bill Senate leaders are proud of. Perhaps, they’re gun-shy over the 17 percent approval rating of the AHCA.

McConnell says a “discussion draft” will be released on Thursday. The public should see the entire bill, seeing how it will repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and affect one-sixth of the economy. The Senate could vote as soon as next week, just days or hours after receiving a CBO assessment.

There’s no justification for this haste and skullduggery. When Hillary Clinton was first lady, she was widely criticized for her cloistered health care meetings, and rightly so. McConnell himself bashed the process for the Affordable Care Act, calling it secretive. Never mind that bills were drafted and amended in the open. The entire process lasted about a year.

The Senate is trying to accomplish the same in a matter of weeks, with no public hearings. This is supposed to be the more deliberative body. Instead, it’s being deliberately opaque.

Even Republican senators are complaining about being left in the dark. Of course, if they really wanted to push the point, they could have already forced the process into the open. It would only take three of them to torpedo the bill (presuming all Democrats vote no). So take those “complaints” with a grain of salt.

The House rammed through its bill without waiting for an independent analysis. Then House members waltzed over to the Rose Garden for a victory celebration with President Donald Trump. Since then, the president has deemed the bill “mean,” revealing what many suspected: He hadn’t read it in the first place. The CBO score had already said as much, showing that 23 million Americans would eventually lose coverage.

If the Senate were to make it “nicer,” it would run into trouble with the House Freedom Caucus, which demanded it be toughened up before its members would vote yes.

The uncertainty surrounding health care is undermining the individual market, with many insurers reining in coverage or pulling out altogether. It hasn’t helped that the Trump administration has eased the mandate to purchase and pulled support from insurance markets.

Meanwhile, governors and legislators from both parties are sweating the prospect of Medicaid being severely cut, because the pressures on them will grow to provide care.

This charade must end. There’s just too much at stake. Congress should either bolster the current system or embark on a credible, transparent journey to improve it.

Passing a bill just to pass one serves nobody.

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