Covering the Health Care Fight

Haste makes waste: Editorial boards decry rushed AHCA vote

May 5, 2017
Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr

SINCE REPUBLICANS PULLED THE FIRST VERSION of the American Health Care Act, reporters have written thousands of words to detail how the GOP’s proposal would harm various constituencies—from beneficiaries of Medicaid expansion to the catastrophically ill, whose expenses are now capped. The urgency of those words intensified Thursday as the House of Representatives narrowly passed the GOP’s refashioned, fraught proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Ahead of the AHCA vote, local news media showed more good sense than the politicians they cover. Just one day before the vote, numerous editorial pages called for representatives to show greater deliberation before approving the AHCA. The Baltimore Sun noted the lack of transparency, and suggested the rush to vote without a new score from the Congressional Budget Office was an attempt to dodge bad headlines (like the ones that followed when the CBO estimated 24 million fewer people would be covered under the GOP plan). In West Virginia, the Register Herald pushed back against the creation of high-risk pools, a widely discredited solution for providing coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

“In their rush to pass something—anything, for God sake!—before the next Congressional recess beginning Friday, Republicans are pulling an old hare out of the past,” the editorial board wrote. “Well that bunny won’t hop.”

TRENDING: 11 images that show how the Trump administration is failing at photography

Indeed, it was House Republicans’ haste to pass the AHCA—without a CBO score or pubic hearings, and with only 16 hours for the public to read the latest legislative language—that drew the ire of many editorial boards. The Albany Times Union editorial board, in a piece headlined “Legislative malpractice,” compared the diligence of the House’s Republican majority to that of a “middle school student on the day before spring break.” The Idaho Falls Post Register called out its state representatives and urged them to vote against the AHCA to “prevent disaster” in the state. “A leap-of-faith vote along ideological lines could cause Idaho to plummet to the bottom of every heap,” the paper warned. The Detroit News urged Republicans to take time and get the legislation right: “A viable replacement can’t be crafted in a hurry.”

The House’s passage of the AHCA suggests that many representatives weren’t paying much attention to their hometown papers.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch used President Donald Trump’s recent appearance on “Face the Nation” in order to fact-check several claims that Trump made to host John Dickerson. (The Post-Dispatch ran a picture of the two men with the editorial, along with this caption: “Only one of them knew what was in the House health care bill.”) The paper’s editorial identified inaccuracies in Trump’s statements about lowering deductibles and protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions, and then concluded:

Sign up for CJR's daily email

“Trump was either telling them what they want to hear even though it’s not true, or he is legitimately confused about what’s in the bill. Either way, it’s not a good thing in a president”

The conservative Washington Times seemed to cheer the speed of the vote (“at some point a pretty good ride beats the one that never arrives”), and argued that the AHCA’s passage would tell Democrats the resistance is not working. Greg Sargent, the Washington Post’s liberal columnist, had this to say about the breakneck speed of the bill’s passage:

“The justifications for the rushed vote coming from individual Republicans have rapidly devolved into low comedy. One GOP congressman when asked how he knows what’s in the bill without a CBO score, claimed: ‘I just know.’ Another in a moment of accidental candor, admitted, “I would prefer to have it scored but more than that I want it to pass.”

With minimal time to review legislative language, the AHCA was bound to contain a few surprises. Here’s one: In the past 24 hours, it became clear the bill would also affect people with employer plans. A state that opts out of Obamacare (which states may do under the AHCA) could eliminate the essential benefits package and weaken Obamacare’s guarantee of protection against catastrophic costs for workers in large employer plans. Obamacare bars employer plans from imposing annual limits on the amount of care they will cover as well as limits on the 10 essential benefits the law requires policies to offer. So much for keeping the consumer protections that Republicans have touted over the past few months.

“I don’t think we should pass bills we haven’t read and don’t know what they cost,” Paul Ryan said in 2009. The next year, as Aaron Blake pointed out at The Washington Post, the GOP shared “A Pledge to America,” which included the following:

“We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text on line for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives. No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public. Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.”

Such statements reveal House Republicans’ hypocrisy—though, of course, that has never been in short supply among politicians. On Thursday, House Republicans did exactly what they accused former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of doing: They passed a bill in order for you to find out what’s in it.

The House’s passage of the AHCA suggests that many representatives weren’t paying much attention to their hometown papers—at least, not any more than they paid to constituents who attended town halls and clamored for more information on the proposed legislation just weeks ago. It seems secrecy is how most legislation gets passed, no matter who is in power. It also means that journalists must redouble efforts to pull back the curtain on obfuscation and report the hell out of the continuing healthcare war. The public depends on it.

TRENDING: Startup that promises ‘no-bullshit journalism’ nets serious cash

Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for CJR's Covering the Health Care Fight. She also blogs for Health News Review and the Center for Health Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.