June 13, 2017

Whitehouse Calls Out Republicans for Secret Health Care Bill

‘It appears that the Affordable Care Act is being repealed through a secret process’

Washington, DC – Today, at hearings of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and Budget committees, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called out Republicans in the Senate for the total secrecy surrounding their effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  A group of Senate Republicans is currently working behind closed doors to alter the House-passed American Health Care Act in hopes of passing a similar bill later this month.  The House version of “Trumpcare” would leave 23 million more Americans without health insurance in 2026, increase premiums by 20 percent in the first year, severely weaken the ACA’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions, and allow insurers to charge older adults up to five times what young Americans pay for health insurance.  

In his remarks before both committees today, Whitehouse pointed to the striking differences between the process used to pass the ACA and Republican leadership’s strategy.

Video of Whitehouse’s remarks can be found here and here

“In this very Committee, we had 47 bipartisan hearings, meetings, roundtables, sessions.  We considered 300 amendments.  There were 160 Republican amendments adopted.  We sat in that big [HELP Committee] conference room day after day after day going through huge stacks of amendments,” said Whitehouse of the ACA during the HELP Committee hearing.  “It looks like what’s going to happen here is the Majority Leader is going to call up the wretched House bill on the floor.  If there is an amendment process, it will be a sham because all amendments will be stripped out because he will offer a complete replacement, which will be the secret Senate bill—the first chance anybody will have to see it.  No amendments will then be in order and they will cram it through on a fixed vote with only then the secret CBO score being provided.  And then they’ll go off to conference with the House, which did the original wretched bill, so it will obviously get even worse in conference with the House.  That may be the most disgraceful Senate process in the history of this body, and it is certainly a closed-door deal that bears no comparison to the open, robust process by which we got to the Affordable Care Act.”

During debate over the ACA, Senate committees held 110 bipartisan public hearings, roundtables, negotiations, and walkthroughs on the legislation.  It was debated for 25 consecutive days on the Senate floor—160 hours in total.  So far, the Senate has held no bipartisan meetings of any kind on the Republican proposal and Republican leadership has signaled plans to spend less than a week on their proposal on the Senate floor.

“It appears that the Affordable Care Act is being repealed through a secret process in which there will be no opportunity for Democratic amendments,” Whitehouse said during the Budget Committee hearing. “There was so much criticism from the Republican side about the one moment when we used reconciliation for a last piece of the bill, but the bulk of the bill was done through our HELP Committee . . .  One hundred and sixty Republican amendments passed in the HELP Committee, as I recall.  We had days of hearings.  We had amendment after amendment after amendment after amendment after amendment.”

Since going into effect, the ACA has been delivering quality, affordable health insurance coverage in Rhode Island and around the country.  Since 2012, the uninsured rate in Rhode Island has dropped from 11 percent to a record low of 4.5 percent.  Thanks to the law, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage because of preexisting conditions, limit the amount of care patients receive in a year, or charge women higher premiums than men for the same health coverage.  Rhode Island’s state-based health insurance exchange, HealthSource RI, has allowed Rhode Islanders to shop for affordable health insurance coverage that best meets their needs.  In 2015, the ACA’s tax credits helped 88 percent of HealthSource RI customers afford their premiums.

“I think we’re turning the Senate into something very unfortunate if zero amendments are going to be allowed other than through the vote-a-rama process,” Whitehouse continued during the Budget hearing, “and for those of you on the Republican side who actually had amendments during that [ACA] process, I think it’s really double-dealing and I hope we don’t go that path.”


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