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Don't Hide Health-Care Deals

THE American people are in for a rude awakening in the debate to reform our health-care system. Congress has closed the doors on the public. Negotiations that will affect the health care of every American are being held in secret, away from the media spotlight and the public's eye, as a final proposal is prepared.

On July 2, 1994, the Senate Finance Committee voted on and passed a health-care reform bill. The Washington Post declared in a front page story on July 3 that the work of the Senate Finance Committee was complete; yet I call on the reporter and others that heralded this action to get a copy of the bill.

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One month later, there is no bill. There are no amendments. No one knows what the costs will be. On July 12, 10 days after the bill's supposed passage, a 21-page press summary of the ``bill'' was released that raises more questions than it provides answers.

A member of the committee stated, ``We didn't vote on a bill. We passed out of committee a bunch of ideas.''

This is stunning. What American would make a major purchase such as a house, site unseen, without knowing the cost, the warranty, or the conditions? Yet, this is precisely what has taken place in the US Senate.

Negotiations continue today in secret as members and staff meet to craft a bill that supposedly has already been passed by the committee. It is anyone's guess what the final product will be. The headline in Congressional Quarterly (July 18) states, ``Work on Plan Goes Behind Closed Doors.''

Furthermore, Senate majority leader George Mitchell continues to craft his alternative to health care, a proposal that will not face any Senate hearings and will not receive any debate in the public's eye before it is introduced on the floor of the Senate. Early indications are that the American people will be given no more than three days to review and to debate the documents.

We have just spent more than a year debating the 1,400-page government-run health-care plan proposed by President Clinton. The debate has been good.

Now that the camera lights are turned off, unknown people are meeting in unknown places to craft unknown legislation that will affect every American's health care. The American people will be given just 72 hours to digest the information.

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This process is reprehensible. The American people should reject it. They deserve to know what is in health-care reform legislation and deserve the opportunity to debate it in its entirety.

According to CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, some 3 out of 4 Americans say they need more information to judge the health-care plan.

Health-care reform will affect virtually every American in the most personal and private way. It will touch 15 percent of our national economy and could affect the employment of millions of Americans. The stakes are too high for the president and Congress to take this behind closed doors.

If the public were to be included in the process, Congress would find that more than 60 percent of the American people are telling us to continue the debate on health-care reform and bring measures in on a gradual basis.

Similarly, more than half of the public is rejecting outright any plan for government-run health care. By a 2 to 1 margin Americans think they will have ``fewer choices'' under a government-run plan. By the same margin they think they will be worse off under such a plan.

Also, more than 60 percent of the public believes that if the Clinton plan or a Clinton-like plan passes Congress, there will be ``too much government'' involvement in health care.

Americans are concerned that in Mr. Clinton's race to pass a health-care reform bill, something very important will be left out - namely, their own views.

The Wall Street Journal notes in an editorial, ``This is precisely the problem. Democrats in Congress are likely to bend or ignore every rule in the book to force through a health-care bill the American people will either oppose or know little about.

Columnist Robert Samuelson says, ``The most important social legislation in a quarter-century should not be approved as a last-minute, poorly understood patchwork. From the start, the debate has suffered from the Clintons' wild promises that they could achieve `universal coverage' at little extra cost.''

If we learned anything from the 1992 elections, we learned that the American people are not asking for more government and more taxes. They are not asking for choices to be removed or for bureaucrats and government employees to make decisions about who their doctor will or won't be, or to which hospital they can or can't go.

Now is not the time for a White House power play. The American people are urging Congress to put the brakes on a health-care reform train that is out of control.

Such a strategy is very dangerous and does not bode well for the country. Listen to congressional leaders:

``We're going to push through health care regardless of the views of the American people,'' says Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia.

``We are not backing down on our drive for the mandate ... We are going to get the votes to do it,'' says Rep. Sam Gibbons (D) of Florida.

The decision Americans are about to make on the president's health-care reform proposal will be the most important in this quarter-century. Open the process now. There should be no secrets.

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