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Blair Horner: The Congress Makes Its Final Moves To Strip Millions Of Health Insurance

New York State government does all it can to operate in secret: $150 billion budget deals are hammered out behind closed doors, multibillion hikes for electric ratepayers are engineered outside of public view, legislative agreements are finalized often minutes before the vote.

The Congress and the federal government have, in the past, operated in a more open fashion.  Not open enough to ensure that the public got all the information it deserves, but generally open – certainly by contrast with Albany.

But that is changing.

The House of Representatives cobbled together legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care system with no hearings or meaningful opportunities for the public to express their views on various proposals.  It was just jammed through.

The Senate is now doing the same thing.  In a departure from practices that go back 100 years, the Senate Republican majority is putting the finishing touches on draft legislation to overhaul the health care industry.  If they succeed in drafting the legislation and passing it, both houses would then have to agree on final legislation to go to the President.  And President Trump seems determined to sign whatever comes out of that process.

Why would Washington act in this fashion?  Why would they want to put together legislation of such magnitude outside of its normal practices?

Because they know that the more the public scrutinizes the plans, the more likely voters will hate what they are coming up with.

What happened in the House of Representatives offers the clearest evidence that the Congressional leadership knows that their plans face a likely public backlash.  As it took up the overhaul plan, the leadership not only sealed off the public process, they also didn’t wait for an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  Normally, the Congress waits for a CBO “scoring” in order to better understand the impacts of their actions.

But the House Republican leadership decided to act prior to that review.  The reason became clear once that review came out, which occurred well after the vote.  According to the CBO, an estimated 23 million Americans would lose their health insurance as a result of the House’s plan.

The House leadership knew this, of course, but they wanted to ram through their plan prior to the public knowing what the legislation meant.

The Senate is now following suit.  It looks like the Senate will have no hearings, no public process, just drafting a health care overhaul behind closed doors.

What could be their reasoning?  Most likely the same as the House’s – people will hate it.

Unlike the House, the Senate is involving the CBO by sending the office various aspects of their plan and then adjusting the plan after the CBO review of that provision.

Of course, all behind closed doors.

In addition, the Senate Majority Leader is invoking a Senate rule which will allow the health care measure to be voted upon by the full house without going through the normal committee reviews.

The secrecy surrounding its deliberations keeps from the public the details of the planned massive overhaul of health care in America.  We don’t have the details yet, but it’s a safe bet that their plan will deny health insurance to millions of Americans, the only question will be how many millions.

To his credit, Governor Cuomo has pledged to protect New Yorkers from the changes, but it is not clear how successful the state can be and at what cost to taxpayers.

It’s a tragedy that one of the major political parties has as its policy goal to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance.  The results will include more untreated illnesses, more avoidable early deaths, more bankruptcies, and more heartache for the families affected.

And Congress knows this; that’s why they put these deals together behind closed doors.  They know that they are putting politics ahead of the well-being of millions of people.  They just don’t want to pay a political price for it.

Let’s hope they do.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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