Hatch, Senate Republicans leaving us in the dark on their health care bill

Sunday , June 18, 2017 - 5:00 AM2 comments

E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner

When the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act without the input of the Congressional Budget Office on the law’s impact, President Trump immediately touted the new bill as a “great plan.” The impact of the proposal is now clear, however. A pre-existing condition could quickly price you out of the health insurance market and millions will lose health insurance coverage.

This week, Trump reversed course and said the legislation was actually “mean" and asked that the Senate make the bill more "generous, kind (and) with heart." A couple weeks ago in this column I said the House could kill close to 6,000 people through the loss of their insurance, which I think qualifies as “mean.” Therefore, I agree with the president’s analysis. In fact, “mean” is underplaying the human cost of the House legislation.

The bill is still just a bill, sitting on Capitol Hill, still a ways off from the White House, so we have time to research it and contact our senators on how we feel health care should be improved. I saw “Schoolhouse Rock!” So I know the bill has to go through committee, then we’ll get to hear the debates and testimony from health care experts. Journalists will decipher the basics and report on the intricacies of the legislation, so I'll at least be informed on what my elected representatives are up to.

Whoops. I guess that’s what happens when you get your civics from Saturday morning television. Even though the cartoons got it right, the committee responsible for the AHCA, the Senate Finance Committee, won’t be holding hearings on the proposed new law. The chairman of the committee is Utah’s own Sen. Orrin Hatch.

In a committee hearing June 9, Hatch was asked point-blank by Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, if there will be committee hearings on the legislation. The question stymied him. Hatch's aide got up and whispered in his ear, and then Hatch turned back to McCaskill and repeated, word for word, the aide's non-answer. Watch it on YouTube.

Every news report I found told me the bill will not go through committee, it will forego CBO analysis, and it will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote prior to the July 4th recess.

So what’s in this bill? No one seems to know, and this is not a partisan mystery. No one knows. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky told NBC News, "If you get a copy of it, will you send me a copy?" The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, testified in Senate hearings this week that even he hasn’t seen the legislation. Hatch told reporters a couple of days ago, “Well, join the crowd. I’m in the same category.”

So even though we live in the age of the Internet, openness, and transparency, our political process has reverted back to the cancer of corrupt, smoke-filled back rooms.

Humans seek to identify with groups, like political parties. As you state your preference for red or blue, Republican or Democrat — or, if you’re feeling contrarian, Libertarian — you’re becoming part of a group.

One thing groups can’t do, though, is protect you from is disease or illness. Pneumonia descends on the Republican and the Democrat alike. You can be apolitical and still get cancer. The pharmacy is going to charge you the same whether you voted for President Trump, Hillary Clinton or Evan McMullin (remember him?). Nowhere on my health insurance application did it ask me who I voted for. Yet, I do know under the Affordable Care Act , my current health insurance application doesn’t ask me if I have pre-existing conditions. I also know children under age 26 are still covered by their parents’ insurance.

My point isn’t to tout the ACA as a cure-all. It does little to control costs. The system favors pharmaceutical company profits to the point where the federal government can’t even negotiate drug prices. Given funding and court challenges to the ACA, I’m certain it is not sustainable in its current form. A concerted and intelligent effort needs to be made to keep health insurance premiums affordable, without diminishing access to the health care we need.

None of these additions or corrections to the ACA I listed above are partisan. We must be open to any ideas about how to accomplish these improvements, because a cancer cell or a broken ankle doesn’t care about your political party. Will the new law hiding in the Senate do what we need for our health? Or will it make our healthcare system sicker?

Laws that are "generous" and benefit everyone aren't hidden from us. A generous law would be touted and shouted from the marbled halls of Capitol Hill. A law that is "mean" and deadly is something want to hide.

We rightfully fear the hidden because we can’t see the danger that is lurking. Nightmares are born out of the dark, and that is where the Senate has left us — in the dark.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward

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