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Neither party sure what to expect from Senate GOP health care bill

Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., speaks to WPMI from Capitol Hill on June 21, 2017. (SBG)

As Senate Republicans prepare to unveil their health care reform bill, many GOP lawmakers are eager to learn what is actually in the legislation that the Senate may be expected to vote on before the end of the month.

“I will certainly be reviewing it closely to see how it impacts our state and if it addresses I and our citizens care about,” said Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala.

Some House Republicans, who have passed their own version of the American Health Care Act, were reluctant to defend the secrecy surrounding the drafting of the bill by their Senate colleagues.

“I don’t pretend to tell the Senate how to operate,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “I certainly would do things differently.”

A small group of GOP senators has been writing the bill—all male senators, Democrats frequently point out—which would repeal and replace elements of the Affordable Care Act. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aims to hold a vote next week.

Democrats and a number of prominent Republicans have criticized the fast-tracking of the legislation that nobody has had a chance to read. No public hearings will be held to discuss it and debate on the Senate floor will be limited.

Since the ACA was passed in 2010, Republicans have claimed that bill was shrouded in secrecy and rushed through Congress, but Democrats say dozens of hearings were held over several months and it was debated for weeks before it was finally voted on.

“They need an open process with both parties working in public hearings,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.

Democrats are discouraged by details that have leaked out so far about the Senate GOP’s plan. They expect the bill will harm the most vulnerable Americans by cutting funding for Medicaid and raising insurance costs for older patients.

“What the Republicans in the Senate are doing is something in secret, 12 or 13 men apparently are deciding this and then they’re going to spring it on their colleagues and spring it on the American people,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. “That’s not the way to enact legislation.”

House Republicans do not know much more than Democrats about how the Senate bill differs from the version they passed, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would leave 23 million more people without insurance.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., said there is a need to act quickly to stave off rising premiums and deductibles, but she expects there will be sufficient time for public discussion before the vote.

“There’s a time to discuss among yourselves what should and should not be in that, and then a time to bring it forward and let the public look at it,” she said.

According to Fox News, the bill will be released at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday.

With public opinion of the Republican plan sinking, Democrats allege the GOP is hiding the bill to shield it from criticism.

“It ought to be a public process but I think the reason we’re not seeing it is they know the public will not support this proposal,” Cicilline said.

Democrats acknowledge flaws in the ACA, he said, but they will not help Republicans throw out a program that has helped millions of people get health insurance coverage.

“If Republicans will abandon this idea of repealing the Affordable Care Act and commit to the idea of working together with Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act, to make it work even better, they’ll have a willing partner, but so far that has not been their interest,” Cicilline said.

Republicans, however, maintain that the system established by the ACA is imploding on its own, with premiums skyrocketing in some states for those purchasing insurance on the individual marketplaces.

“It’s imperative that we do this because what we have now is not working. It is hurting millions of Americans and we can do better,” Hartzler said.

Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., listed health care reform as one of three top priorities for Congress, and he suggested lawmakers may need to cancel their August recess to get it done.

“We have to bring down the cost of health care…we have to bring relief to the American people on health care,” he said.

Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, hopes the Senate can improve upon the House bill, particularly with regard to Medicaid and insurance coverage for those in poverty who might refuse work if it means losing free insurance. He supports a Medicaid buy-in option that would enable those slightly above the poverty line to keep their coverage at a low cost.

“While I care about their health care, I care about their economic vitality too,” he said.

Democrats argue that the Republican legislation has nothing to do with health care or economic vitality for the poor and is instead just a façade to justify an $800 billion tax cut for the wealthy.

“They’re going to take it away from poor people, give it to corporations and rich people,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.

In addition to increasing the number of uninsured, Democrats cite analyses that predict the Republican plan would drastically raise premiums on older Americans and those with preexisting conditions.

“All of that so you can give a huge tax cut to the richest people in this country who don’t need it,” Cicilline said.

Given the current unpopularity of the bill and the impact the CBO believes it would have, Slaughter suggested the Senate GOP may not even want it to pass.

“It’s going to be draconian,” she said. “I’m not really sure if they don’t want to just put it out and have it fail.”

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