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Republicans Discuss the President’s Plan for Health Care Reform

August 31, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Thanks, Jim. And when it comes to the issue of health care, Republicans and Democrats agree that the preliminary concern is cost. For some Republican style solutions I’m joined by New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

You gentlemen are both from battle ground states this year. Everyone is coming to visit. Everyone is telling you they have the solutions. How big a deal, governor, is health care as one of those issues in your state this year?

GOV. CRAIG BENSON: We have the healthiest state in the country and yet health care costs continue to be a drag on everything from our economy to the small businesses we have in the state and we do need some solutions to help fix them.

GWEN IFILL: When you say health care costs, what do you mean, when you say what’s driving those costs?

GOV. CRAIG BENSON: Well, the cost of insurance is the thing most people see, and that is the thing that continues to escalate and so a lot of the president’s plans are very, very apropos as far as being able to tackle this problem. No one silver bullet is going to fix the whole thing.

But he is bringing to the table a number of different ideas, as we are doing some of the things in New Hampshire now to see if we can’t mitigate some of these costs.

GWEN IFILL: We’ll talk about those of the ideas in a minute. But Ken Blackwell, you tell me about Ohio. How big a deal is health care as a campaign issue this year?

KEN BLACKWELL: I think it’s a big deal. It ranks right under national security and job creation in our state.

And I think the president is talking about two things of importance. For those who don’t have access to affordable health care, he is talking about expanding community-based health clinics. I think that’s important. He has extended it to about three million people under his first term and he has plans to expand it to about six million if he is selected by people to a second term.

But the other thing that Sen. Frist hit on that I think is important because it is a driver in health care costs, is the need for medical liability reform. What is happening now is that the costs of liability insurance for doctors, particularly physicians in specialty areas, are skyrocketing through the roof.

And as a consequence, what we are seeing is an exodus of physicians in Ohio. If we don’t turn that situation around, mothers who need care for their infants are going to be put at a disadvantage. Women who need care will be put at a disadvantage. So, we must in fact look at medical liability reform, or we won’t be able to contain costs.

GWEN IFILL: Gov. Benson, what is driving train when it comes to medical liability? Are we talking about the lawsuits which are driving costs up or is it the health care costs are driving lawsuits?

GOV. CRAIG BENSON: Well, I think it’s the lawsuits that are driving the whole thing. It’s causing doctors to have to get insurance, which continues to go through the roof. Many doctors now are working for the insurance companies instead of for themselves or for their patients. And that is really a huge tax on the overall health care system but more than that, it’s a tax on the doctors themselves as they struggle for those insurance costs, they are not able to pay their other costs and some of them are thinking of leaving the practice all together which is a terrible crime.

GWEN IFILL: What about the growing number of uninsured? Does the president have a plan to cope with that? Obviously we see new numbers come out all the time showing the numbers in the tens of millions. What in the president’s plan would address that issue?

KEN BLACKWELL: Well, again, I want to talk to the expansion of community based health clinics that would affect — make health care more accessible to the uninsured.

GWEN IFILL: But there are 45 million uninsured. How many are you talking about in community clinics would be affected?

KEN BLACKWELL: That’s right. As I indicated, what he wanted to do in the second term is expand it to six million. But that’s only one leg of what the president wants to do. He is talking about also a tax credit for those who have lost their health insurance packages due to international trade and manufacturing jobs leaving the state. That will, in fact, help to make it more affordable for those who are right now without insurance. So he has a multifaceted program that begins to cut down that number from a 45 million uninsured to a much, much smaller number.

GWEN IFILL: Governor, you mentioned earlier that New Hampshire has taken some steps on its own. Is that because first of all, I’m curious what those are, but is that because the federal government has not been stepping up to the plate?

GOV. CRAIG BENSON: No. I think states have a role in this, too. We have a role in liability reform, we have a role in allowing businesses to pool, which is one of the president’s ideas too, to be able to join together so they can buy more effectively, more efficiently and in a more cost effective manner. We are also working on prescription drugs.

I know in the Medicare arena, the president has already provided the discount cards that is going to be expanded in 2006. But in the state of New Hampshire, we are pooling with other states to be able to buy drugs more effectively for our Medicaid patients. We are also importing drugs from Canada, and now we are going to look at the United Kingdom as well because costs of prescription drugs is a big driver in health care.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about the importation plan. That’s not something the administration necessarily endorses.

GOV. CRAIG BENSON: Well, you know, the fact of the matter is, is our drug costs are two to three times what they are in any other country in the world. And I have to tell you, as governor of the state of New Hampshire, my job is to protect those who can’t protect themselves and allow them to be able to purchase pharmaceuticals at the most reasonable costs so they’re not choosing between food, and heating their home and taking their drug. In many cases, that is what the choices are.

GWEN IFILL: President Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services, Ken Blackwell, does not endorse that plan. And several states are doing what New Hampshire is doing.

KEN BLACKWELL: I think the governor is right. States have some things within their capabilities to do. For instance, we really need to reform in Ohio our Medicaid system. Right now we don’t reimburse for assisted living care. And so we force more and more people into much more expensive nursing home care when one, they prefer not to be there and two, it’s much more efficient.

GWEN IFILL: That should be a state responsibility or a federal responsibility?

KEN BLACKWELL: Oh, it should be a state responsibility to reform our laws to get more efficiency out of our federal Medicaid dollars. And so there are things that states can do to more efficiently use the dollars that available to them to make sure there is a reasonable and affordable care available to the injured, the elderly and the poor.

GWEN IFILL: And how does the president make it clear at a convention speech like he is going to be giving here later this week that he cares about these issues, that the federal government does have a role?

GOV. CRAIG BENSON: He was just up in New Hampshire on Monday and spoke to about 2,000 people. I was there and a huge portion of his speech was about health care, health care costs, the drivers, a lot of what Sen. Frist talked about, were things that the president said when he was in New Hampshire. So I’m sure that a good portion of the speech on Thursday is going to deal with health care, its costs, the attendant problems and making sure physicians stay in the practice not working for insurance companies.

GWEN IFILL: From New Hampshire, Gov. Craig Benson, from Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Thank you both very much.