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The Great American Health Care Heist

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, speaks to members of the media about healthcare, Tuesday, May 9, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington following a policy luncheon. (Jacquelyn Martin/ AP)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, speaks to members of the media about healthcare, Tuesday, May 9, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington following a policy luncheon. (Jacquelyn Martin/ AP)
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Even as you read this, 13 old white men are meeting behind closed doors in an effort to deprive millions of Americans of health insurance. It is, at once, the most cowardly and the most brazen political theft in modern American history.

And unless our citizenry summons the will to protest, Mitch McConnell and his cabal of cynical senators will get away with it.

You all know the story by now. Republicans vowed for years to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

But when the time came to actually do so, all the House of Representatives could come up with was a plan that kicked 24 million Americans off their insurance, jacked up premiums, gutted $880 billion from Medicaid, and scorched protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

The beauty of this plan, from the perspective of millionaires and sociopaths, is that it would amount to a massive tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.

McConnell knows his only shot at passage is to spring the bill on his own caucus and force a vote before public outrage can mount.

As soon as actual Americans learned what was in the bill, they went ballistic.

But the House GOP managed to pass the so-called American Health Care Act, despite the fact that only 17 percent of the public supported the bill.

Handed this PR nightmare, Senate Republicans did what all seasoned criminals must: They went into hiding. Literally.

After spending years whining about how Obamacare was “jammed down the American people’s throats,” Mitch McConnell and his colleagues have settled on a more subtle approach: to pass their bill while America sleeps.

Republicans are hoping to approve a plan that will affect a sixth of the U.S. economy, and yet most of the senators who will vote on this plan haven’t even seen it yet.

Democrats, of course, are being frozen out.

But even the members of McConnell’s own caucus are in the dark. According to Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican, “I’ve got people calling my office. They’re saying, ‘Don’t vote for this!’ Well, what is this? We don’t what this is yet.”

Why is McConnell trying to keep the bill, and the process of its formulation, a secret, even from his own members? Is it because he’s so proud of what he and his colleagues are crafting? Because he’s so eager for public input?

No, it’s because he knows virtually everyone who matters — from patients to doctors to hospitals — will hate the bill and will raise hell the more they learn about it.

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To understand just how unprecedented this process is, consider the tortured process by which Obamacare was shaped. The Senate considered that bill for 15 months. A bipartisan group of senators spent months trying to come up with a plan. Despite failing to reach a compromise, senators from both parties spent seven full days marking up the bill. The Finance Committee alone held 53 hearings and meetings, and heard testimony from hundreds of concerned citizens and health care professionals.

McConnell knows his only shot at passage is to spring the bill on his own caucus and force a vote before public outrage can mount.

This is not how government is supposed to work.

The whole idea of crafting legislation is to serve the public, not to bamboozle us.

Take a step back here. The whole idea of crafting legislation is to serve the public, not to bamboozle us. Republicans have become so desperate and cynical that they can only see the politics here. They’ve forgotten, or chosen to ignore, the basic principle that those directly affected by a bill should be allowed to play some role in shaping it.

For months now, physicians and hospitals and consumer advocates who represent patients with cancer and heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses have been begging GOP leaders to let them be a part of the process, or at least to heed their concerns.

Last week, more than a dozen patient groups — including the March of Dimes and the American Lung Association — pleaded with McConnell to meet with them. McConnell’s office refused.

Yes, Mitch McConnell, in his effort to pass a bill that threatens millions of sick Americans, is stonewalling the March of Dimes.

That’s where we are right now.

Unless we wake up and take to the streets, McConnell and his colleagues will do what cynical career politicians have been doing for decades: Subvert the will of people in broad daylight and send millions of American families into despair and bankruptcy.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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