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House members debate Obama’s proposed fix to insurance cancellations

November 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
President Obama's idea to temporarily lessen the blow for Americans whose existing insurance policies were canceled has garnered mixed reviews on Capitol Hill. Gwen Ifill gets reaction from Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.
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GWEN IFILL: Again, to the president’s health care plan.

In the Senate, some Democrats are pushing their own legislation, including Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU, D-La.: The president’s announcement this morning was a great first step, and we will probably need legislation to make it stick. My bill is a permanent solution. We’re going to be working to see how that can be shaped to make it real, hold the promise and support the Affordable Care Act.

GWEN IFILL: But how did today’s presidential mea culpa go over in the House?

For that, we turn to two members, Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Republican Congressman James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Jan Schakowsky, you just heard what Mary Landrieu had to say in the Senate. What do you think? Do you think what the president did today was enough?

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REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY, D-Ill.: We had a Democratic caucus.

The reaction was really approving of the president’s plan. I think people felt that this was a good fix. And, you know, when you start something like this, there are going to be changes that we need to make, and felt that this was a good idea.

And so I think the — the response has been very, very positive on the part of the Democrats that we’re dealing with something that we have been hearing from our constituents about, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of when you try and fix something that already has so much promise for millions and millions of Americans who have been denied health insurance in the past.

GWEN IFILL: Except I keep hearing Democrats, Ms. Schakowsky, say, this is a good first step. This should be a permanent fix. This should be a permanent rollback. Do you think that that might gather some speed?

JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, the Democrats are going to offer a response to the legislation that the Republicans are offering tomorrow. That’s still in the works.

But we certainly do think that the president has made a move in the right direction. I can’t tell you, because I don’t know right now, what we’re going to be doing in the House. But I want to tell you, you played part of John Boehner. One other thing he said is that we have the best health delivery system in the world.

I’m sorry. With 41 million people with no insurance and many more that are denied insurance because of preexisting conditions, I don’t think so. We need the Affordable Care Act.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Lankford, when you talk to your constituents in Oklahoma, do you get a sense that they would accept the fix that the president put forward today?

REP. JAMES LANKFORD, R-Okla.: No. We’re still trying to figure out what this fix does and how the fix actually works.

The insurance companies obviously have come out and said this fix actually won’t work for us. It doesn’t instigate it. And it does a couple things. One is, the president laid out a mandate to say, if the companies are going to still present this same insurance they had last year, first thing they have to do is they have to advertise for other competing companies that are on the exchanges and tell their people that they’re offering the policy to that, hey, the exchange is over here, here’s what here, and here’s what we don’t have, but the exchanges do.

Companies are not going to step out and say, hey, here’s another company that has a better product or a different product than ours. That’s kind of nonsensical on it. It’s one thing to say we’re just going to compete on it. It’s another to say, you can come back and compete again, but you have to compete at a disadvantage. That’s the problem.

The president came back and said, yes, companies can come back, but we’re going to strap them down with even more regulations. That’s not helpful.

GWEN IFILL: Is your concern that this fix isn’t enough or is it your concern that it’s putting on a bandage on a bad product?

JAMES LANKFORD: Yes, two things. One is, the fix, I’m not sure it’s legal yet. The law is very clear on it.

 

He’s just basically saying we’re going to ignore that part of the law. That’s not what the executive branch is set to do. The legislative branch creates the laws and then it has to be fulfilled. The Democrats now two terms ago in Congress created a law that this president is now saying this part of the law doesn’t work, so we’re going to ignore it.

Legally, you can’t do that. So we’re still trying to figure out where he’s getting the legal authority to do it. The second thing is, it still creates this unstable environment where companies are trying to figure out, what’s the regulatory environment, how do I do this? They’re not going to take the risk if they don’t know how to — what to take the risk on.

GWEN IFILL: Jan Schakowsky, as you know, atmospherics are sometimes just as important as policy.

It was remarkable to see the president apologize at such great length today in the White House Briefing Room. Did you find that that is something that maybe could have happened a couple of weeks ago?

JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I think as soon as we saw that the rollout of the website in particular was really, really, what do you call it, rocky, difficult, you know, he’s already taken responsibility for that.

But you know what I fear? That we miss the big picture. Parents of children with autism were on the Hill today, and their message was, thank you. We don’t have to worry anymore. And women are going to do so much better. And especially women who may have breast cancer and men who have cancer are — this is what this law is about.

It’s not about the insurance industry being able to offer this or that, although we want to make it as easy as possible for people to access a policy that they haven’t been able to get before.

GWEN IFILL: But if the insurance companies and state insurance commissioners like in Washington State, say they don’t know what to do about this fix, isn’t that significant?

JAN SCHAKOWSKY: No, because I think they are going to figure that out. This is going to happen over the next couple weeks, and I think that all of these things in a brand-new plan are absolutely going to roll out over time and finally going to be able to bring to the American people what they haven’t had for decades.

The constant worry about preexisting conditions, that goes away. Bankruptcies that have been caused by unaffordable policies, that goes away. This is a big deal for the American people, and we can’t go back to the old, totally dysfunctional non-system that we had before.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Lankford, how would you define the big picture that might be missing in this conversation? Obviously, your colleague defines it differently.

JAMES LANKFORD: Sure.

No, there are a couple big challenges that are here. We have around five million people that have received a letter that said, you’re canceled. Those are both people on the individual policies and small businesses that had grouped together with other small businesses that the Affordable Care Act made those things illegal, that small businesses couldn’t group together in associations.

So we have lots of small business owners that are out shopping for insurance. They go to the website to try to get insurance and they can’t. As of yesterday, even, the administration and all the I.T. folks that are in front of our hearing couldn’t say whether they would have the website done even by the 15th of December, which means we have people that currently have insurance will not have insurance in January, and they’re going to have a gap in coverage.

That’s one issue. The separate issue deals with all these different insurance carriers and whether you’re — you’re going to get coverage that you like or whether you can keep the coverage that you had in the past. Obviously, those rules are shifting.

It was by design that people would lose their old insurance and step into — well, the president talks about the grandfathering that’s in there. The grandfather was if you had the exact same insurance you had in 2010 and it never changes. Whether it’s 2020 or 2014, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to change at some point. It’s going to be grandfathered off.

So while he can say this was a glitch, the website was a glitch, losing your insurance was by design to be able to push you into this other policy. Now they’re trying to back up and say maybe that was a mistake. That’s a legislative fix ,if we have to do it. And as far as cancer patients and such, we’re getting just as many contacts now from people that found out they had coverage, they have lost that coverage, whether they’re in a small business or an individual.

The new coverage that’s offered doesn’t provide their same cancer doctor. And so they have got to start all over again with a cancer physician and go through all the paperwork and testing and everything else they have got to do. It’s a real problem for a lot of people that have serious health issues.

And so the issues with this is not can we do something and should we do something. Yes, we should. It’s whether this was the something that we should have done and how much trauma it has really created to our economy and a lot of families.

GWEN IFILL: Jan Schakowsky, there have been a lot of man and woman hours extended on congressional hearings looking backward at what went wrong, why this rollout was so rocky, why the president had to apologize so profusely today.

Do you think it’s worth it trying to get to the bottom of what went wrong before you move forward to figure out a way to get it right?

JAN SCHAKOWSKY: All of the complaints that we hear — and I was in the hearing today — is part of a 3.5 year nonstop, well-funded, relentless campaign to undermine the Affordable Care Act and never to offer any kind of comprehensive alternative, never to come up with a plan that actually would put people in coverage and make sure that they have the health care they needed.

So that hasn’t stopped. And we still haven’t seen any kind of real plan, just an attack on Obamacare. And I want to say — and I also want to say that those policies, a lot of them only covered you if you were healthy. Once you got sick, many of those policies are junk policies.

GWEN IFILL: Let me direct the same question to Mr. Lankford, which is whether this is worth looking back at and whether it tells us about something about the future.

JAMES LANKFORD: Oversight is very important, whether it’s the Democrat or Republican, both sides. We have a responsibility to the taxpayer and to people in our district.

The website itself, for instance, $600 million has been spent on something that didn’t work. They now cannot tell us how much more they’re going to spend. They’re pouring in a lot of additional contractors that are no-bid contracts that they’re pouring into this process. They don’t know how they are going to fix it. They don’t how long it’s going to take to fix it, how much it is going to cost.

And they couldn’t even tell us who was in charge at the beginning. That’s a — that’s a simple oversight issue to say, why was this done this way? And it’s important for us to learn from it in the past. It’s also important because it affects a lot of families.

Now, everybody gets into the politics of Republicans, Democrats, who’s up, who’s down. The reality is, people in our districts have been harmed by this. There are people that really their life has turned upside-down. Did it have to happen this way? And we should examine that.

GWEN IFILL: All right, Congressman James Lankford of Oklahoma, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, thank you both so much.

JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Thank you. Thank you.

JAMES LANKFORD: Thanks.