Sen. Baldwin Calls For Bipartisan Efforts On Health Care

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Premiere Date: 
July 14, 2017

Sen. Baldwin Calls For Bipartisan Efforts On Health Care

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said she wants both sides of the aisle to come together on health care policy. "Once they [Republicans] dispense with the partisan nonsense of the repeal, there is a lot of productive work we can do together." She used her work with Sen. John McCain to reduce the cost of EpiPens as an example of what could be done if both Republicans and Democrats work together.

Episode Transcript

Zac Schultz:

A first look tonight. Senate Republicans in Washington have unveiled their latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson joined us on this topic two Fridays ago. Joining us now from Washington is Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin. Thanks for your time today.

Tammy Baldwin:

Thank you.

Zac Schultz:

The latest bill has a number of changes from the first Senate proposal, including keeping some of the Obamacare taxes on the wealthy. But I’m guessing the changes aren't enough to gain your support at this time.

Tammy Baldwin:

Exactly. I can tell you what hasn't changed. What hasn't changed is that millions will still be losing their insurance under this plan. Medicaid is capped and cut in ways that will threaten people with disabilities or parents of children with disabilities, those with loved ones in nursing care. And this so-called age tax, the ability to charge much higher premiums to those who are 50 and older, is still a persistent problem and it does very little to stabilize the market. So I hope that my Republican colleagues continue to hear what I’ve been hearing from Wisconsinites. They are speaking out. They are very aware of how harmful this measure is. And I am hoping they continue to urge a no vote on this new piece of legislation.

Zac Schultz:

We last had you on the program in March when this same thing was playing out in the House. They had just pulled back their first attempt and only later were they able to pass a bill that was immediately ignored by the Senate. But it seemed like it was dead until it passed. Do you think a similar thing can happen in the Senate?

Tammy Baldwin:

You know, it's certainly hard to project. At this point, two Republican senators have indicated that they will not vote to proceed with this matter. They can only lose one more. But that's really, you know, a question mark as we head into the next week. What's so important is that Wisconsinites and others deeply impacted by this continue to speak out. You know, Zac, health care is so personal. I know that from my own experience. As a child, I had a serious illness and then was labeled as a kid with a pre-existing condition. And for much of my youth I didn't have health insurance. I have heard from so many parents, individuals, families who care deeply about a member with a pre-existing condition. I think about a young man I met from Denmark, Wisconsin born with a congenital heart defect and required several surgeries. He and his parents in particular fear greatly for the future if something like this measure were to come to pass because it so significantly weakens the protections, the guaranteed protections people have today to be able to get coverage and care if they have a pre-existing condition.

Zac Schultz:

Now the latest version might also include the so-called Cruz amendment for Texas Senator Ted Cruz which would allow for cheaper insurance options. But why is that idea getting so much pushback from many in the medical community?

Tammy Baldwin:

Well, really what they're called is junk insurance policies. They may be very low price, but that's because they don't provide any significant coverage. Imagine having insurance like in the old days and finding out in your time of need that it won't even cover a hospitalization or won't cover a round of cancer treatment. We don't need a two-tiered system. And the other thing is that people who are older or sicker, have pre-existing conditions are likely to become concentrated in the health insurance market, leading to even higher premiums. So it would be a two-tiered system, which everybody believes is heading us in the wrong direction.

Zac Schultz:

Now there are also reports that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is working on a compromise version that would essentially block grant all the federal monies to the states to use on health care as they use. Senator Graham says that he thinks that could eventually gain Democratic support. Would it gain your support?

Tammy Baldwin:

You know, what has to happen first and our only short-term objective has to be defeating this repeal attempt. This is really partisan nonsense, making good on a pledge, a seven-year-old pledge which is not helping people be able to afford their health care. As soon as they renounce the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, there is so much we can do to work together, to bring down prices, make things more affordable while keeping the guarantees that people now have, for example, for coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. I think that once they dispense with the partisan nonsense of the repeal, there is a lot of productive work we could do together and I will actually welcome any good ideas for discussion and debate. And there's clearly things we can do right now that have broad bipartisan support. Take, for example, focusing on the high cost of prescription medication. I have reached across the aisle and am working with John McCain to address issues like the EpiPen, life-saving medication for those with severe allergies that has spiked up to $600 a pack. And we can do things to relieve the cost issues, to stabilize the insurance markets. And I think what we need to do is get to that point and dispense with the countless efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

Zac Schultz:

Now, if this bill fails, Republicans say that Obamacare is in a death spiral and will die on its own and Democrats are saying Republicans are sabotaging the Obamacare markets. But the people in Wisconsin, who are only seeing fewer health care options in their area, perhaps only a single option in Obamacare market, can they tell the difference between failure and sabotage and does it matter if they only have one choice?

Tammy Baldwin:

Well, Wisconsin has a number of insurance participants, but obviously there are counties where there are fewer choices. I will note that the recent exit from the insurance market in Wisconsin, Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield cited in its letter explaining its actions. Actions taken by the Trump administration leading to greater uncertainty. And that is something we can absolutely confront on a bipartisan basis. Stabilizing the market by making it clear that the -- what are known as the cost-sharing reduction payments are made. That's what Trump is threatening potentially not to make, will absolutely lead to more certainty, more stabilization. You know, insurance markets need certainty. And I have absolute confidence that we can work together to do so. In fact, last week when we were all home during the 4th of July recess, Mitch McConnell opened the door to that. He said that if he couldn't muster the Republican votes to repeal Obamacare, that he could work across the party aisle to stabilize insurance markets. But to do what we all know we must do if we listen to our constituents, which is to keep the guarantees that people with pre-existing conditions can get coverage and reduce costs.

Zac Schultz:

All right. Well, Senator Baldwin from Washington, thanks for your time.

Tammy Baldwin:

Thank you.

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