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 life-or-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.
Kamala D. Harris is California's junior senator.