The Senate’s Health Care Bill Remains Shrouded in Secrecy – NBCNews.com

 In U.S.
WASHINGTON — The Senate is closing in on a health care bill that could affect coverage for tens of millions of Americans and overhaul an industry that makes up one-sixth of the economy.

Only one problem: Almost no one knows what’s in it.

In a striking break from how Congress normally crafts legislation, including Obamacare, the Senate is conducting its negotiations behind closed doors. The process began five weeks ago, after the House passed its version of health care reform, with a small working group of 13 senators that included no women.

The opaque process makes it impossible to evaluate whether there are any significant changes coming to health care. There are no hearings with health experts, industry leaders, and patient advocacy groups to weigh in where the public can watch their testimony or where Democrats can offer amendments.

“We’ll let you see the bill when we finally release it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters on Tuesday. He added that “nobody is hiding the ball here” and that people were “free to ask anybody anything.”

Free to ask, but answers are another matter. While members say they’re close enough to producing a legislation, they have been tight-lipped on the details, leaving Americans with only a trickle of leaked ideas that are often vague or speculative.

Democrats have complained about being shut out, but even some Republican senators have said they’ve had difficulty getting information about the legislation and wished there were more public opportunities to register concerns.

“Would I have preferred a more open process? The answer is yes,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told reporters on Monday evening.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that he’s complained to leadership about the lack of transparency. “I would have liked to have seen a public process — get buy-in from the public,” he said. “I’ve said that in several of our meetings but that’s obviously not what’s going to happen. Now when the bill’s complete, the public then will have a chance to view it.”

Related: Trump Called House Health Care Bill ‘Mean’ in Senate Meeting

Asked if they had seen any legislative text, a Republican aide to a member of the 13-person Senate working group deadpanned: “Why would they show us any legislation?”

The approach is broadly similar to the process that produced the American Health Care Act in the House last month. At the time, leaders released a finished bill and voted on it within 24 hours — so fast that the Congressional Budget Office couldn’t estimate its cost and effects for another three weeks. The move was a jarring shift after years of promises from House GOP leaders to slow down major legislation and post all bills online several days before a vote.

Democrats are increasingly drawing attention to the lack of transparency, which they’ve criticized as an effort to rush through legislation before Americans can scrutinize its effects or individual lawmakers can push for changes.

“Will we have a hearing on the health care proposal?” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) pressed Finance Chairing Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in a separate hearing last week. Hatch would not commit to one, but invited McCaskill to pass on her ideas. “We have no idea what’s being proposed,” McCaskill responded.

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