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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Take time to evaluate health care plan

It’s surreal to see Republican congressional leaders try to rush through a health care plan, when so many mocked then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s line: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.”

Pelosi’s comment during passage of the Affordable Care Act was stripped of context, but the GOP’s message – that Democrats were moving so fast they didn’t know what they were voting on – has become a truism within the party.

Let’s recap:

The House of Representatives unveiled the plan that would become the Affordable Care Act in July 2009. It passed its bill on Nov. 7, 2009. The Senate version passed on Dec. 24, 2009. In January 2010, Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, replaced Sen. Ted Kennedy, who died the previous August, and Senate Democrats lost their 60th vote, which is the threshold needed to cut off filibusters.

Democrats then chose to pass the bill under “reconciliation” (the same expedited process Republicans are using now), which means only 51 votes are needed in the Senate. On March 21, 2010, the House passed the Senate version, and Obama signed it into law two days later.

That’s more than eight months from the unveiling to the president’s signature. Time to read the bill, evaluate the impacts and debate.

That’s quite different from what’s occurring now. Republicans unveiled their plan on Monday, and Senate leaders said they want to vote on the ACA’s repeal by early April, meaning they would need to unite behind a replacement by then.

What’s the rush? Health care policy is complicated. Even some Republicans are wondering why the bill can’t be “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office before they consider it.

We’re wondering the same. How many people will it cover (or fail to cover)? How much will it cost? How will it be financed in the long run? What impact will it have on the budget deficit?

What do insurance companies think? What will happen to premiums? What do hospitals think? Will this cause a return to uninsured people using emergency rooms as their primary-care providers? What do governors think, especially those in states where Medicaid expansion provided access to health care for huge swaths of their populations?

The good news is that Republican leaders are not seeking a wholesale dismantling of the ACA. They’ve retained many of the key features. They do seem willing to leverage government to help people get health care coverage.

To be sure, this has angered some conservatives who wanted a complete repeal. And while these critics have no solutions, they do have votes. That’s especially crucial in the Senate, where Republicans hold a thin margin. If Republican leadership is truly interested in a different version of government-run health care, which is what their plan represents, then they may need to change it to lure votes from Democrats.

That would take time, but it’s better than rushing through a plan that has little chance of passage. Or, if it were to pass, seeing what’s in it later.

Congress was designed to be a deliberative body. So slow down. It’s more important to get it right than to get it right away.