As the Senate prepares to vote on the GOP health reform replacement bill, health care interest groups have ratcheted up the pressure, demanding answers over a process so secretive that even President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price said last week that he has not seen a draft of the legislation.
The Los Angeles Times reported that leading patient advocacy organizations sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week asking for a meeting, only to be rejected over scheduling concerns. The coalition of more than 15 advocacy groups — representing doctors, hospitals, and patient advocates — asked for a meeting any time between last Friday and June 22. “A representative from McConnell’s office told them staff schedules were too busy, according to representatives of several of the organizations,” the Times reported.
McConnell is indeed busy, according to Senate Republican calendars obtained by The Intercept. The Senate majority leader and other members of the Republican leadership will be occupied this week attending multiple high-dollar fundraising events.
McConnell is scheduled for a fundraising dinner at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at The Source, a Washington, D.C., restaurant. The event is listed by a Senate GOP fundraising group, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which advertises that individuals can be listed as a “host” of the event by contributing either $2,500 per political action committee or $1,000 per individual. The NRSC says the event was planned to benefit the election campaign of Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.
For his part, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the third ranking member of Republican leadership and member of one of the congressional committees drafting the legislation, is scheduled to appear at a separate fundraising event at the D.C. lobbying offices of the utility firm Southern Company. The event is listed by the NRSC as a benefit for Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and comes with ticket prices ranging from $250 to $2,500.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who sits on both Senate Finance and Senate HELP, the two congressional committees crafting the replacement bill, is featured at a fundraising dinner at 7:00 p.m. on Monday at the Capitol Hill Club, a swank members-only event space frequented by Republicans and allied interest groups. The event, which also features Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., costs $2,000 to attend, or $12,500 for an individual to attend the dinner along with a series of other dinners with Republican lawmakers.
The Republican health replacement bill comes as House Republicans rushed to pass a sweeping legislative package that drastically slashes Medicaid spending, rolls back upper income and insurance industry taxes, expands the ability of insurance plans to charge older Americans more for their premiums, and provides states with the option to opt out of most consumer protections enshrined in the Affordable Care Act. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2026, 23 million more Americans will lack health insurance because of the law.
The Senate is planning to act soon to pass their own bill, which is expected to mirror many of the provisions of the House GOP bill. But details are murky thanks to the closed process.
Democrats are quick to point out that the Affordable Care Act was debated openly with dozens of public hearings and amendments over the course of a nearly a year before they brought the bill to a vote. The Senate Finance Committee alone held 53 hearings and meetings about the bill.
McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment over his fundraising schedule. But scheduling concerns are not the only reason Republicans have given over why they have kept the process so secretive. Some Republicans are admitting that any effort to open up would simply provide an opportunity for Democrats to criticize the bill.
“We have zero cooperation from the Democrats,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, according to the Times. “So getting it in public gives them a chance to get up and scream.”