Join the life-and-death bat­tle

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - Ka­mala D. Har­ris is Cal­i­for­nia’s ju­nior se­na­tor. By Ka­mala D. Har­ris

Next week, Repub­li­cans want the United States Se­nate to vote on a bill that would re­struc­ture our na­tion’s en­tire health­care sys­tem — a sys­tem that makes up one-sixth of the Amer­i­can econ­omy. This bill would af­fect the lives of nearly ev­ery Amer­i­can, from our par­ents or grand­par­ents in need of care­giv­ing, to our chil­dren strug­gling with asthma or opi­oid ad­dic­tion, to our spouses bat­tling can­cer.

And we only just re­ceived the full text on Thurs­day, a week be­fore the vote on the bill.

Many will re­call Repub­li­cans com­plain­ing about the Af­ford­able Care Act be­ing rushed through Congress. In fact, the ACA went through 106 pub­lic hear­ings and in­cor­po­rated more than 170 Repub­li­can amend­ments. The whole process took an en­tire year.

Repub­li­cans are try­ing to ram their health­care pro­posal through the Se­nate with lit­tle to no trans­parency. There have been no hear­ings, no de­bate, and hardly any time to ex­am­ine the details of the pro­posal. We are be­ing asked to vote blindly on a bill that has lifeor-death con­se­quences for those we rep­re­sent.

The Amer­i­can peo­ple de­serve bet­ter. The Amer­i­can peo­ple de­serve greater trans­parency.

But while the au­thors of this pro­posal have tried to con­ceal the details of their plan by work­ing in secret un­til the last minute, it’s clear that this bill would be noth­ing short of a dis­as­ter. It’s just as bad — and in some cases worse — than the bill that nar­rowly passed the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in May. That bill was so cat­a­strophic that even the pres­i­dent of the United States, who once praised its pas­sage, now calls it “mean.”

Here’s what we know: The Se­nate Repub­li­can plan would throw mil­lions of Amer­i­cans off their in­sur­ance, in­clud­ing po­ten­tially up to 5 mil­lion Cal­i­for­ni­ans. It would raise costs for mid­dle-class fam­i­lies and se­niors. It would put Amer­i­cans with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions at risk and cut hun­dreds of bil­lions from Med­i­caid and Medi-Cal, which pays for ev­ery­thing from sub­stance abuse treat­ment to sup­port for chil­dren with spe­cial needs. That’s un­ac­cept­able.

This bill is be­ing writ­ten along strictly par­ti­san lines, but health­care is not a par­ti­san is­sue. Your health isn’t dic­tated by your party af­fil­i­a­tion. Sup­port­ing or op­pos­ing this health­care plan is not about be­ing a Demo­crat or a Repub­li­can — it is about right and wrong. In­stead of wreak­ing havoc on our health­care sys­tem, we owe it to the Amer­i­can peo­ple to come to­gether and solve real prob­lems.

I’m home this week­end, and like my Demo­cratic col­leagues, I’ll be work­ing hard to en­sure that peo­ple on the ground un­der­stand how this bill will af­fect them. But we can’t do it alone. We need Cal­i­for­ni­ans to make them­selves heard.

Be­cause we won’t give up try­ing to pro­tect and strengthen our health­care. I re­cently co-spon­sored a bill with Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein and a num­ber of my Demo­cratic col­leagues. Our bill would make it eas­ier for mid­dle-class Amer­i­cans to buy in­sur­ance if they cur­rently don’t qual­ify for any help pay­ing their pre­mi­ums. That’s the kind of in­no­va­tion that Democrats and Repub­li­cans should both be able to sup­port. That’s the kind of in­no­va­tion that would help — not hurt — the peo­ple we rep­re­sent.

One of those peo­ple is Rhett, a 9-year-old in Marin County, Calif., who was di­ag­nosed with leukemia when he was only 2½ years old. Rhett en­dured more than 1,000 chemo­ther­apy doses to, in his words, “get the bad guys out” of his body.

Thank­fully, Rhett is now in re­mis­sion. Be­cause of the ACA, he doesn’t have to worry about be­ing de­nied in­sur­ance cov­er­age one day be­cause of his pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tion. His fam­ily doesn’t have to worry about how they will pay for his treat­ment if his can­cer re­turns. Rhett wants to be a doc­tor when he grows up, and thanks to the ACA, he can stay on his par­ents’ health in­sur­ance when he goes to col­lege and med­i­cal school.

We should lis­ten to Rhett when he tells us, “Don’t re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act, im­prove it!” The ACA isn’t per­fect. And I’m ready to work with any­one who re­ally wants to make it work bet­ter. So let’s stop play­ing pol­i­tics with pub­lic health and peo­ple’s lives. Let’s re­ject this hasty and harm­ful leg­is­la­tion and work to­gether to ac­tu­ally strengthen our health­care sys­tem.

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