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House Republicans Pushing For Changes To Health Care Reform Law

Audio

Aired 1/21/11

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to repeal the health-care-reform bill this week. While Democratic leaders in the Senate said they will not consider a repeal, the House's symbolic vote indicates that efforts to change the legislation will continue. We talk about why the Republicans want to change the law.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to repeal the health-care-reform bill this week. While Democratic leaders in the Senate said they will not consider a repeal, the House's symbolic vote indicates that efforts to change the legislation will continue. We talk about why the Republicans want to change the law.

Guests

Bob Kittle, director of News Planning and Content for KUSI.

Andrew Donohue, editor of voiceofsandiego.org.

JW August, managing editor for 10 News.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

GLORIA PENNER: House Republicans began their year by voting to repeal the Democrats' healthcare law. The repeal is considered symbolic with no effect on the existing law. Locally a coalition of healthcare leaders opposed the repeal. So Bob, let's start with local reaction. Here, consumer and healthcare advocacy groups are opposed to the repeal. They're concerned about losing the laws' coverage for those with pre-existing conditions - health conditions, and they want to protect the expected healthcare coverage for the 25 percent of San Diegans now uninsured. If the act were repealed, how would those be sacrificed?

KITTLE: Well, those -- those provisions would disappear, but let me point out the act is --

GLORIA PENNER: Would they actually be sacrificed? I guess that's really what I was asking.

KITTLE: Well, they would be sacrificed in the law was repealed. Such as the law on pre-existing conditions allowing 26-year olds to be on their parents' insurance. I mean, up to age 26. Those provisions would go away. But the reality, of course, is that this was largely a symbolic act by the House Republicans to show their opposition to Obam care. The senate is not going to go along, Harry Reed, the senate majority leader, said the senate will not even take up the House repeal. So that's not going to happen, and as you said, there was a coalition organized by the San Diego Organizing Project, largely black ministers and their constituents to oppose the GOP move to repeal it, because they feel it will hurt poor people.

GLORIA PENNER: And will it?

KITTLE: Well I think -- yes, I think in the sense that this law, the Obama care, would extend coverage to 32 million people who are uninsured today, yes.

GLORIA PENNER: And so we have, then, Republican members of the House, Andrew let me turn to you on this one. Who know that their voting for the repeal isn't really going to have any effect. And yet that's how they're spending their first days in Congress, voting for something that won't matter.

DONAHUE: Yeah, well, they -- the campaign cry was repeal and replace. So they've decided to go forward with the repeal and sort of forget about the replace idea. And I think that's what's sort of silly about this, if you did just repeal, you -- 30 to 35 million Americans would just lose healthcare all of a sudden. And so I think what's turned -- what was a campaign cry has sort of turned out to just be that, just an empty campaign cry, there is really no strong effort to come up with some sort of alternative plan right now.

GLORIA PENNER: But there had to be a reason why they oppose it. I mean, have they come up with a good reason? We'll start with you, JW, and let me throw this out to our listeners too. Okay? So we now have a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives on the campaign trail they said they were going to repeal the new healthcare law. Indeed they did vote to repeal it, but the senate isn't even going to hear that repeal, and Obama says he's going to veto it. So what was the point of this --

AUGUST: Because Republicans still are on the campaign trail. This is all very political. This is sound bites for their campaign in two years, they could run and show their constituency. It's got nothing to do with reality. The Republicans have become like the Henny Penny of politics. Their solution to the healthcare problem is to run around and say, the sky falling. Okay, Mr. Bush was in office for eight years, and you had Republican controlled Congress, where was the healthcare then? The only thing they passed was that God awful prescription drug thing that's cost us billions of dollars. If they -- if they were on their game, what's the solution then? Hey, I'll vote for it. Show me how you're gonna cover 30 to 50 million Americans, and do it cheaper than Obama care, and I'm on board with that. But just don't become like Henny Penny and always talk about the sky is falling and not offering substantial solutions. I know they're setting up -- their long-term plan is to take little bites out of the plan, and this is just like the opening move in a chess match. But never the less, it's like spending two days reciting the constitution. You're wasting our time. Get to work! We got a lot of problems.

GLORIA PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727. 1-888-895-KPBS. Well you just heard JW August giving his opinion of the symbolic repeal of the healthcare law. And actually, the poll numbers indicate that while a majority of Americans really were suspicious of this whole thing or maybe didn't understand it, but apparently were opposed to it, those numbers are changing. That we're seeing that a majority of Americans now do want to keep the healthcare law. Bob Kittle?

KITTLE: Well, the polls actually show that people want parts of it repealed. It's a very mixed bag. The percentage of people who want a total repeal has declined, that's true. But let me speak quickly to why the Republicans did this. There's more to it, I think than just a campaign appeal. JW referred to the, as he called it, God awful prescription drug mandate, which has cost us billions of dollars. That is the Republican view in the sense that, and, yes, this was passed with Republican support under George W. Bush. These government entitlement programs always cost far more than the projections. The reality is this mandate to provide coverage to 32 million people who do not now have it, it incredibly costly, and over the long-term is going to cost the taxpayers mightily. And in fact, be a huge drag on the budget. Medicare, when it was enacted in the 60s was seen as a way of saving money in the long run. The exact opposite has happened with Medicare. And the Republicans are saying we have a $14 trillion debt, the debt has gone up from eight trillion, you know, three years ago, to 14 trillion. And we cannot continue to pile up debt like this. So that's, I think, the framework in which most Republicans wanted to repeal Obama care.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, it's interesting because I saw a letter that Congressman Duncan D. Hunter wrote to a constituent who asked him about this, and he said that under the new law, millions of Americans will lose their employer sponsored healthcare. Now, why?

KITTLE: Well, he isn't making this up, Gloria. The law provides that employers must either provide insurance or pay a fee that is far lower, pay a fee to the federal government, that is far lower than the normal cost of providing medical coverage to your employees. So the real concern is that many employers will choose to simply pay the fee, and tell their employees, fend for yourself. So I think that's one of the potential unintended consequences of this law.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. All right, let's turn to our callers and see what they have to say about it. We'll start with Lindsey in San Diego. Lindsey, you're on with the editors, welcome.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thank you. My point is, I don't understand why the Republicans aren't backing the healthcare law in the context of shifting the highest risk cases from the care of Medicaid liability to the private sector. And by that, I mean, the pre-existing conditions, the lifetime -- the folks who have met the lifetime max, things that, you know, under the current healthcare law would end up being paid by the government. But if we shift that liability to the private sector, maybe they could do it better. And that seems like a pretty Republican philosophy, so --

GLORIA PENNER: Thank you, Lindsey. Andrew, but are the objections centered on individual freedom to choose whether or not to buy insurance? I mean, that's a part of the Republican philospohy too, isn't it?

DONAHUE: It is, but what's ironic is that this is -- the plan that actually passed is actually quite a centrist plan, I mean, this is not the plan that leftists want. This is it very much based upon what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts, and a plan that had come up and sort of created, originally by the heritage foundation, which is a very conservative organization. Which is why so much of this smells like just opposing Obama and trying to just go after whatever he's accomplishing rather than actually trying to come up with a solution to cure what is a very serious problem in this country.

Gloria Penner: I think that Michael in San Diego, who is up next on the phones, has a similar impression. Michael, go ahead, let us hear from you on this.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for taking my call, Gloria. I'm a long time listener.

GLORIA PENNER: Good.

NEW SPEAKER: My perspective on this, is that Republicans in the House and at the federal level, do love the people in this country, and they do love this country, I think the big problem is they hate the democratic ideology and hate Democrats more than they love this country. That's why they haven't come up with any solutions to address the shortfalls that they disagree with in the House and in the Senate. My issue is, the people in this country need to get together and initiate the recall vote because those same people who are voting to take away healthcare are those same people who voted against the Zadroga act to make certain that those first response heroes for 911 do not get their care either, and we need to get these people out of office by executing the recall vote.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. So the recall. Is that even a possibility, Bob Kittle?

KITTLE: I'm sorry, but under the constitution, you can't recall your federal office holders. That's a state provision. So you'd have to amend the constitution to provide for a recall, if that's the way you wanted to go. But when it comes to members of the House, of course you you get a chance to recall them every two years at the ballot box.

GLORIA PENNER: Let me go, perhaps, to a kindlier way of looking at this. Is there any possibility that we're going to see some bipartisan effort here? For example, might we see a cooperation between the two parties on removing a tax on business?

KITTLE: I think some Democrats and some Republicans are of like mind in fixing some provisions of Obama care, whether those things move forward or not, I can't say, because certainly the atmosphere in Washington today is not one of bipartisan cooperation.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. But, I'm wondering, JW, why it's necessary to use pejoratives, such as calling the law monstrosity, a dark chapter in American history, and socialistic. I mean, is it necessary in order to get things changed? Is it necessary?

AUGUST: Yes, it does, because when you do those crawls on Fox, where they need those catchy 2 or 3-word phrases, these are just perfect. People don't even have to listen to the facts or the information, they just look at the little banners and they shake their heads and say, yeah. And you know what, not that I'm paranoid, but there is a tremendous medical industrial complex in this United States of America. And least we forget, they're behind the scenes pushing buttons and pulling levers on this too. The insurance industry, we all know is our friend, has a very -- you know, their bureaucracy is so easy to get into, if you ever had a call back on a doctor's bill or something. Of you know they're very cooperative and helpful, and they really stand up and look out for the American public. They're behind the scenes pushing buttons, pulling levers. So pay attention behind the curtain, because that's the insurance industry.

GLORIA PENNER: And that was JW August of Ten News, we're gonna come back in a moment, we're gonna wrap up this discussion. I do have a question for the editors about the House Republicans, those who are signing up for federal health insurance, and whether there may be some hypocrisy there. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. This is the Editors Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.

This is the Editors Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner here at the round table with JW August from Ten News, Bob Kittle from KUSI, and from voiceofsandiego.org, we have Andrew Donahue who's gonna be talking about the Chargers in a couple of minutes. But let's continue with our discussion now, we have many phone calls. The repeal of the healthcare law. And that's a word that I'm use -- that's a phrase I'm using, not Obama care, because Obama care, Bob Kittle, is that politically incorrect now?

KITTLE: You know, I strive to be politically correct, and I rarely am. But yes, I think at least in the current debate in the house, the term Obama care has been considered pejorative by supporters of the healthcare law.

DONAHUE: Which is why you've used it a couple of times.

KITTLE: I suppose.

GLORIA PENNER: That's right. Well, let's hear from frank in in El Cajon. Frank of course what do you want to stay so the editors?

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, good morning, Gloria. Just an observation, the Republicans who voted for a repeal of the bill, did never take into consideration the fact that we already had universal healthcare, it's called the emergency room. And city after city, people who opt out from any kind of insurance, should they get insured or get a disease that can't be handled at a local drug store go to the emergency room. Everybody in your room pays for it. Day after day, week after week.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Thanks frank. JW.

AUGUST: He's right on. The emergency rooms are doing the work, other than emergency rooms should do. I was in 12 weeks ago on a weekend. My gosh, that place was packed!

GLORIA PENNER: Yeah, well, if you're willing to wait for hours and hours and hours.

AUGUST: Right.

GLORIA PENNER: Because that's what it takes. I don't know whether emergency room personnel have been ramped up to cover all the people who are now using it. Of.

AUGUST: And think of the cost effectiveness, it's more extensive to run people through emergency rooms of it's just not cost effective. And that's the reality now. So we gotta deal with that.

GLORIA PENNER: Thank you for your call, frank. Ian from Solana Beach is with us. Ian, welcome to These Days. No, this is The Editors Roundtable. But I hear you on these, Ian.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, Gloria. I have one question for Bob Kittle, and it was somewhat addressed by a previous caller, but I want to address it specifically. Bob Kittle, could you please compare the cost of Obama care versus ER care because nobody is talking about the cost of ER care.

KITTLE: Well, I think we have talked about that.

GLORIA PENNER: We just did.

KITTLE: The cost of ER care, and it is a very costly way to provide treatment. Because preventative care in the long run certainly ought to be more cost effective. But I think that the reality is, if you look at the numbers, Obama Care, the healthcare reform, whatever you want to call it, in extending coverage and providing, basically a mandate for universal coverage is very, very costly over the long-term.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay, well, for -- my final question to you, Bob Kittle, I understand that there are nine house Republicans that aren't signing themselves and their families up for federal health insurance since they are opposed to the healthcare law. That leaves 233 Republicans who apparently are willing to take the federal insurance.

KITTLE: Right,.

Gloria Penner: How can you say one thing and do another?

KITTLE: Well, I don't know. To suggest that politicians don't say one thing and do another is a strange credibility, a bit. But the reality is, members of Congress have a gold operated, Cadillac healthcare plan. There's no doubt about that. And the taxpayers provide a huge part of the -- probably, I'm sure, most of the support for that healthcare plan that members of Congress have.

GLORIA PENNER: And we do so happy we, don't we?

KITTLE: Oh, of course we do.

GLORIA PENNER: You've got a big smile on your face. All right.

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