Members Of Congress Literally Chasing Each Other Around Capitol Hill Trying To Find Text Of Obamacare Repeal Bill

Image courtesy of Brad Clinesmith

Since Nov. 8, 2016, Congressional Republicans and the White House have said they would immediately move to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but apart from some leaked details, no concrete legislation has surfaced. A draft bill reportedly exists, but it’s not just being kept from public view; lawmakers from both parties are desperately scrambling to get a peek at the text.

A draft proposal for how to repeal the ACA leaked to Politico a week ago, on Feb. 24.

That last known draft plan kept some parts of the ACA and jettisoned others, as this handy New York Times analysis explains.

If the actual bill going to markup is like the draft that went public, then we can expect some popular provisions of the ACA — including requiring all insurers to cover 10 essential benefits, prohibitions on lifetime limits for care, and dependent coverage extending until age 26 — to stay in place.

Others, however, will be subject to change or go out of the window entirely. The current draft calls for changes to the way Health Savings Accounts are used, as well as to the Medicaid expansion that 30 states took part in.

Then yesterday, March 1, Rep. Chris Collins told The Hill that the House Energy and Commerce Committee would be holding a markup session on the bill on Wednesday, March 8.

A markup session is when a committee publicly reviews the contents of a bill and suggests changes — amendments — that they then vote to adopt or reject. It takes the draft of a bill and marks it up with edits, adding, tweaking, and removing content to move toward a final version.

Usually, however, a bill is publicly introduced, and the text known and available, well before a markup session happens. That, though, is not the case here. Nobody’s actually sure who’s introducing the bill, what it says, what the text is, or, in fact, if it really exists.

It’s not just the media and the public that are scrambling here, either; both members of the House and Senate — from both parties — are trying to find out.

For example, conservative senator Rand Paul (KY), Tweeted his frustration with the secrecy this morning.

“I have been told that the House Obamacare bill is under lock & key, in a secure location, and not available for me or the public to view,” Paul wrote. “This is unacceptable. This is the biggest issue before Congress and the American people right now.”

On that, Paul is in rare agreement with his Democratic counterparts. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX) and the other Democrats who sit with him on the House Ways and Means Committee have issued a letter to committee chair Rep. Kevin Brady (TX) asking him to hold hearings on any ACA repeal plans first, before a committee markup on a bill takes place.

“With any legislation, this type of hasty, partisan action would be cause for alarm,” Doggett and his peers write. “With legislation that would drastically alter health coverage for Americans, robust and transparent discussions are even more critical, as the lives and wellbeing of millions of Americans families hang in the balance.”

Meanwhile, not only is the bill apparently being kept secret — Representatives and media who are looking for it do not know where it is being kept secret. They literally cannot find it. There is an actual, non-figurative, cartoon-style chase slowly unfolding in the Capitol.

Vox’s Sara Kliff, following along and Tweeting about it, reports that several Representatives, including Paul, Brady, and Paul Tonko (NY) all tried to enter one particular room — H-157 — where the bill was reportedly being kept, only to find that it was not, in fact, inside; reporters were able to enter shortly thereafter and verify the absence of a bill themselves.

Kliff added that, “I covered the 2009-2010 health debate, and this hunt for a bill in a mysterious room is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever witnessed.”

BuzzFeed’s Paul McLeod, also on the chase, reports that, “the bill has been moved to a new secret location after the old secret location got too much heat. The hunt continues.”

WNYC reporter Todd Zwilich Tweets that on a suggestion from reporters, Rep. Frank Pallone (NJ) stopped in House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA)’s office to try to see the bill, and similarly found no joy there.

Representatives and reporters continue to chase through the Capitol but as of yet, no copy of the bill has surfaced.

While legislators and their aides are living out a Pink Panther-style caper on Capitol Hill, our colleagues at Consumer Reports are hoping to remind lawmakers that if they are going to repeal and replace the ACA, they should do so thoughtfully and transparently.

“Changes to the Affordable Care Act will have a dramatic impact on millions of Americans,” says Laura MacCleery, Vice President of Policy and Mobilization for Consumer Reports. “Something of this magnitude should not be rushed or hastily pushed through the legislative process. Americans deserve a thorough, fully transparent review of any ACA replacement plan — including hearings with expert testimony, a Congressional Budget Office score, and a reasonable amount of time for all members to carefully review and consider new legislation.”

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