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Future of Your Health Care is at Stake; Health Care Debate Rages Across America

Aired August 15, 2009 - 13:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: Past the headlines and the shouting to find out how the health care debates really affects Americans. Get ready. Time to talk YOUR MONEY.

Welcome to YOUR MONEY, I'm Christine Romans. The future of your health care is at stake. Ali Velshi has been traveling through the heart of America on the CNN Express, talking to you about your health coverage and what you want to see in reform.

Ali, what are they telling you?

ALI VELSH, CNN HOST, YOUR MONEY: And I'm here in Kansas City, Missouri, with the CNN Express. I've been hearing a lot from people across the country. We've started in Georgia, went through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and now into Kansas and then into Iowa. We're finding out what people are feeling about health care.

The debate, as we've seen, has been heated in town hall meetings all over the country. When we stopped in Paducah, Kentucky, I had a very civilized, very normal conversation with some folks about their fears and hopes for health care reform, Christine. Have a listen to this.


VELSHI (voice over): We are hearing different things from people wherever we're going but I haven't found too many people around here who are opposed to reforming health care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm for the idea but I don't think that Congress and the president have done a good job of disseminating information. I'm just hearing a lot of talk.

VELSHI: What about you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think right now we have a lack of choice. I mean, health care is expensive. The average cost of the coverage I found more often than not are more expensive than the actual care. I would think any viable choice would be better than what we've got now.

VELSHI: What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My understanding, there is about 48 million people that's not covered. Those people need to be covered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband and I are two of that 47 million-plus that don't have health care. And I'm not talking insurance, of course we don't have insurance, but I want health care. My husband has diabetes and he just had a bout with cancer. What insurance company is going to cover us?

There aren't any. If I get sick today? Where do you think I'm going? I'm going to the emergency room. Who is that costing? That is costing us, the tax payers. If they have to tax me more in order to get health care, tax me. Tax me, tax me, tax me. I am willing to pay.

VELSHI: Let's talk about the 46 million, 47 million, whatever number you want to use, number of people who are not insured in this country. What's your thought on that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would really love to drive a Hummer. They're cool cars. I can't afford one, so I don't drive one. I drive what I can afford.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god. I can't believe you're saying that people don't deserve health care if they can't afford it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did I say that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is what I hear you' saying ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then you are not listening.

VELSHI: But you did say that you would like to buy a Hummer and you can't buy a Hummer because you can't afford it so you're saying if you can't afford the Hummer you don't drive it, if you can't afford healthcare, you shouldn't get it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no. I'm saying you have the basic stuff. You get a catastrophic illness; you're in a car crash, an accident, something like that happens. Of course you get coverage for that.

VELSHI: There's disagreement here which by the way I didn't sense when I first got here. So it's a good debate, but this -- this appears to be a healthier debate than a lot of the town hall meetings that some of you have seen on TV, which has not been getting to the point of debate it is a shout fest right from the beginning and there doesn't seem to be a hearty discussion. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems -- it just distracts from the issue, and it's really disturbing because this is a complex issue. If something is going to affect us for the next generation, so I mean, we really do ourselves a disservice when these town halls -- the one with Claire McCaskill today and the one in Pennsylvania, it just -- it's a very complex issue.

Our health care is 16 percent of our GDP, its way too high. We're higher than any industrialized country. Yet, when we're trying to fix it, we tend to revert to this, I don't know, lack of intelligence. And it's really not doing anything.

VELSHI: What's the problem is it people don't know what it is? Is it that they're not able to research it? Is it as somebody told me earlier, that it's radio that's influencing this? Is it the media coverage?


VELSHI: We're afraid?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all afraid that we're going to lose something. We're all afraid that my ability to keep my doctor, keep my insurance if I want to, I don't know that many people actually believe that that's going to be the case.

VELSHI: But they said it.

People have said ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May not be able to get coverage ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politicians going back on their promises? Come on.

VELSHI: Do you think the administration is doing a good enough job and what else can they do to sell this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a fan of the administration but they are not doing a good enough job at winning the battle on pr. honestly. I personally like the single payer plan better. But honestly, whatever they put out now, if it got passed and if every single American was guaranteed health care that would be good enough for me.


VELSHI: Now, that woman with the baby in her hands, Heather, was a congressional candidate. She had run for office in 2008 and lost. We're having those kinds of conversations across the country. On Thursday night, for instance, I had a dinner in Kansas City with seven people who lived in the city and they certainly weren't as supportive of healthcare reform as that group in Paducah, Kentucky, was.

But these are the kind of discussions we're having across the country. We brought in Andrew Rubin to answer more questions that we've got from people; he's the host of "Sirius XM's "Dr. Radio." Andrew let's talk about some of the specific points that town hall panelists had raised.

Will it healthcare reform provide guaranteed affordable coverage for people with preexisting conditions, like that woman was talking about, with cancer or diabetes? Conditions that currently make it very, very difficult for them to get coverage? Andrew.

ANDREW RUBIN, NYU LANGONE MEDICAL CENTER: Ali that is actually an easy one. The whole reason we're having this conversation and the whole reason the country's going to these town hall meetings this week is because we have to cover these people. There are 50 million, whatever those, whatever you say the number is, million people don't have insurance and they have to be able to get it. What kind of insurance they get, what levels, you heard even in that cohesive group some disagreements about what levels of insurance they should have.

That's what Congress is going to have to work out. One quick point, a lot of people who have insurance don't realize how vulnerable they can be if they actually get sick. So we talk always about these 50 million uninsured Americans, we need to do something to shore up the health care system to make sure the people who have insurance today are protected when something goes wrong.

ROMANS: That's a very good point. Trying to get the details and the specifics of something that's not very specific, and there aren't a lot of details yet, leave it to "The Daily Show" to sum up the perception that Democrats have lost the early pr battle on health care reform.


REP. NANCY PELOSI: We don't get a surcharge there until you are over $500,000, so your first $100,000 --


RUBIN: You know it's not about the details of this reform; it's really about the big picture.


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: People need to understand there is no bill right now to be for or against.


ROMANS: Jon Stewart's face, and put it on the face of millions of Americans who are trying to figure out if it's so important and we have to do it quickly, but we don't know exactly what's in it. Is there a profound lack of trust among Americans about Washington being able to get this right?

RUBIN: I think there's always a lack of trust with Washington that didn't start with health care. But certainly there is a huge lack of trust; it's 16 percent of our economy. People before this election all we heard in the news was Medicare was going broke, how are we going to pay for Medicare for the long-term, the government didn't have a plan.

Now we have five bills out in Congress that are coming out and it transforms the entire health care industry and there's no detail. I mean, there are snippets of detail and then you hear something and then something else comes out and -- we have not done a good job explaining what we're going to accomplish.

VELSHI: That's an important point, just to know there's a lot going on out there. There are a bunch of different proposals so there may be some reason why there's no detail. But the questions I'm getting out on the road really have to do with accessibility; they have to do with choice, options of who your doctors are. But certainly the biggest one that I've faced on the road is how do we pay for all of this. Again, a question from Charles in Missouri. Listen to this.


CHARLES DEWITT, MO: Well, I would like to know that in an economy and system of rising deficits how can we afford to pay for this new health care reform that, while it would be nice, is going to add a big burden to the taxpayer.


VELSHI: And the question I guess, Andrew is it possible? Is it possible to provide health coverage for all or most Americans without that just raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans? Andrew.

RUBIN: Well on this one the good news is actually pretty simple. There are only two ways to do this, you either raise taxes which I think Congress has come out and the president has come out and said we don't want to do that. And the second is to cut cost. The good news on the cost side is there are lots of areas where we can cut cost in the system. And again, the devil is going to be in the details. It doesn't mean you have to cut service to cut cost. But I work in this business. There's plenty of room for cost cutting.

ROMANS: All right. More information from you coming up. Don't go away, Andrew Rubin for comprehensive coverage of town halls and the health care debate, you can check out care. Senior citizens at town halls across the country, wow, they're mad. They're asking a lot of questions and they have a lot of concerns about what's going to happen to their Medicare. How will it affect their coverage?


ROMANS: It is make or break month for health care reform. Ali is with us right now from Kansas City, Missouri. He has been driving all over the U.S. this week on the CNN Express, talking to people just like you to get America's pulse on health care reform. We're responding to your concerns, we're answering your questions. No outrage, no yelling, no screaming, just information.

Andrew Rubin is host of "Sirius XM's Dr. Radio" and David Certner is the legislative director for the AARP. I want to start with you first David and talk a little bit about what the president said earlier this week about the AARP's position on health reform as it stands.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Another myth that we've been hearing about is this notion that somehow we're going to be cutting your Medicare benefits. We are not. The AARP would not be endorsing a bill if it was undermining Medicare. OK? So I just want seniors to be clear about this.


ROMANS: David, shortly after that, Tom Nelson the chief operating officer set the record straight, and said that they you had not endorsed any particular plan. What will it take to get a blanket endorsement of health care reform, any of these plans from the AARP? What is it that you'd like?

DAVID CERTNER, LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR, AARP: Well, first let me just go back and say we do agree with that the president said, which was AARP would not support any plan that would undermine Medicare or cut Medicare benefits. So in that regard, we agree with what the president had to say. This is obviously a large bill. There are many pieces of it. We are looking for a bill that basically is good for our Medicare population as well as our pre-Medicare population.

For our Medicare population in particular, we're looking to make sure that there are no cuts in benefits, that people can retain access to their doctors, that we can do something to address the coverage gap or sometimes known as the donor hole, the part D prescription drug benefits, that we can hold down costs in the Medicare program, and that we can make changes to help remove some of the waste from the Medicare program.

So some of those things are the key pieces we're looking at in this health reform bill for the Medicare population. And of course primarily among those is making sure there are no benefit cuts and that we're not harming the Medicare program.

VELSHI: Andrew we were just listening to a discussion about prescriptions and medication. I was at the Missouri State Fair and spoke to somebody named Christine who had a question about research into prescription drugs under these proposals. Listen to this.


CHRISTINE JONES, MD: My question is, as a science teacher, I know the importance of research in the development of new drugs and medications and with government involvement in health care, I just am curious about the incentives for private industry, pharmaceutical industries to continue to development of new drugs and medication.


VELSHI: Andrew is there anything in the proposal that you've heard that would not be an incentive to create new drugs? Does Christine have something to be worried about?

RUBIN: It is a great question; it's not just drugs, its technology, and medical technology. No, there is actually nothing in the bills right now. In fact the president has come out and pretty much said many times, the government's not taking over health care. They're just trying to reform health care and make sure people have access to it.

There's no question that, you know, the drug -- the drug industry has a public relations problem, they make money but they also create incredible new drugs, most of them in this country. So we're going to have to tackle what gets -- how this is going to get solved in terms of this pr battle and making sure new drugs come to market. There's nothing in these bills that will stop that from happening.

ROMANS: Let's take a listen here to this Ireport about the public option.


CLIFF OLNEY: We need a public option. It's the only thing that's going to keep the cost of health care down. For those of you that do have insurance, the public option will give you a better premium, no deductibles, no co-pays. They will be in competition with a company that's not for profit and they will need to bring premium prices down. Everyone will save.


ROMANS: What do you think, Andrew?

RUBIN: Listen. Everybody wants health care reform. So you have to understand that we're going to have health care reform and there's going to be government intervention in terms of making sure the -- whether it be a private plan or a public plan, provides health insurance for everybody in this country. Again, the details haven't really been worked out yet, so they can't figure out the costs and what's going to get covered. But everybody wants to do that.

ROMANS: Here's the problem with the details though, people are hearing is they are hearing we've got to do this quickly, this is a make or break month. But we don't really know all the details on some of the proposals yet. And I think that's what frustrates people because we want to know specifically, OK here's my situation, what does it mean to me. I don't see that flow chart anywhere, that is telling us what it is going to mean for me, depending on what my situation is, is that part of the problem here?

RUBIN: That is 100 percent of the problem and I love that you tee it'd up with this is a make or break month for health care. Let me give you a little secret, it's the first of many make or break months in health care and we're going to have many more of them.

What we know now and it is very limited what we know now is that the health bills in Congress are going to give people insurance. Beyond that, what's it going to cost, what are the benefit levels going to be, that's still open for discussion and the Senate Financial Committee is still working out those details. But we don't know yet and we will know soon.

ROMANS: All right. David Certner from AARP, thank you so much for joining us in Washington, and Andrew Rubin, "Sirius XM, Dr. Radio" thank you so much.

All right. Where do you want to be and how are you going to get there? Lessons from Chris Gardner who went from homeless to Wall Street success.


WILL SMITH, PLAYING CHRIS GARDNER, "THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS:" Good morning. Chris Gardner. Chris Gardner. Good to see you again. Chris Gardner. Pleasure. I've been sitting out there for the last half hour trying to come up with a story that would explain my being here dressed like this.


ROMANS: That's Will Smith in the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" he's playing Chris Gardner. Chronicled in that film, based on a book, he's got a new book out as well. This is a man who knows firsthand that you can indeed come back from the brink of financial ruin, Ali.

VELSHI: And Chris Gardner is the author of a new book "Start Where You Are, Life Lessons in Getting from Where You are to Where You Want to be." Chris, great to have you with us. America has watched your story and loved your story. But it was a story about you being down and out and being in a tough situation originally and then lifting yourself out of it.

Your new book is really meant to apply to more people. How does it apply to the situation we're in today with so many Americans losing their job, losing hope, losing their homes? Tell me how this helps people now.

CHRIS GARDNER, AUTHOR, "THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS:" I think this could be a very, very good time to be asking ourselves some very big questions. Big questions such as what's really important to me? What do I want to do the rest of my life? What is nonnegotiable? Do my children know me? This is the chance to be asking ourselves some very, very big questions. And let me just add this.

The theme of the film, "The Pursuit of Happyness" and the book "The Pursuit of Happyness" was never about rags to riches to me. It was about a man who was committed to giving his child something he never had, which is a father. And that's priceless.

ROMANS: And that's something ...

GARDNER: This is a very big time.

ROMANS: That's something we're all trying to give our kids something, our families something; we are trying to give our country something, even as we're emerging hopefully emerging from this brutal recession. Give me a sense of what you can do to get where you want to go today. And you say the hope thing is overrated. You don't sit home and wish that things are going to get better; you've got to do something.

GARDNER: No. No. You've got to have a plan. I think the hope thing -- I mean, too many Americans right now for too long have had to hope they don't lose their jobs, hope the bank doesn't take their house, and hope that someone in Washington, D.C., cares about them. This is the time to be having a plan. And your plan has got to be clear, concise. You've got to be committed. And you've got to be consistent in your plan. You've got to have a plan, not hope.

VELSHI: That's what I was just about to ask you that. If you don't have hope, what drives that plan? Is it ambition? Is it the ability to change yourself? I think I read that you had said we're too defined by the jobs we do and that you shouldn't, if you're down and out or you're out of a job you shouldn't be defining yourself by your profession or what you do. Tell me a little about that.

GARDNER: Well, too long, too many of us, especially men, allowed what we do to define who we are. Well, guess what? You just got downsized, outsourced, laid off and fired. Now who are you? So this, again, is a very good time for a lot of us to be asking ourselves very big questions. And it can also be a good time for a lot of us to begin forming a new vision of the American dream. A new vision that is more about appreciation and less about expectation. For too long, a lot of us have been living in exile in a place called things. Maybe it's time for us to come home.

ROMANS: I would agree with you on that. I'm hearing a lot from the retail analysts and people who chart consumer behavior that there's a focus on quality over quantity. That goes for what we buy, for how we live our lives, for the way we are behaving with our children. It's something we can really take away from this.

You make a very good point when we talking to you before this interview, you told our staff that the only person who is going to save your life lives in your house, not in the White House. I think that's a very important point here that there's this macro picture about the recession is ending, but it could still feel like a recession for some folks out there. What are you suppose to do if you're less behind in the recovery?

GARDNER: First of all, is this recovery indeed underway? I'm not convinced. Secondly, you've just got to be mindful of the fact that the cavalry is not coming. Again, the person that cares most about you and your family lives in your house, not the White House. It's your responsibility, but it's also your opportunity.

So I think this could be a very, very exciting time for a lot of us, who are willing to take this time and say, just like this market, the housing market, the stock market, just like it came down, at some point it's going to go up. It's going to turn. The big question is, who are we going to turn out to be when it does turn?

ROMANS: Excellent. All right. The book is called "Start Where You Are." Chris Gardner thanks. Stick around we're going to talk to you again in a bit. But in the mean time forget all the yelling and screaming, find out what's really behind all this town hall health care outrage.


ROMANS: All right. Welcome back to YOUR MONEY. Time now for the ticker, where every week we take you beyond and behind the headlines. Ali Velshi is on the CNN Express in Kansas City, Missouri, or Missouri, as some of us say down there in the Midwest. Chris Gardner joins us again from Chicago. His amazing life story was portrayed by Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness." He's got a new book out, it is called "Start Where you are, Life Lessons in from Getting Where you are to Where You Want to be." He wants you to go to Amazon immediately,

We want to welcome Joe Queenan with me in New York; he is author of the book "Closing Time." Let me start with you Joe. What about this outrage at the town hall debates? Is it manufactured stuff by the right? Is it really people who are moderates and are concerned because they don't see enough details? Is it people who are just sick and tired of the last year and a half and they don't trust their government? What is it?

JOE QUEENAN, AUTHOR, "CLOSING TIME:" Well nothing spontaneous happens in the United States any more, so everything is manufactured in part because of the internet. So the stuff that you see on television, where they're giving a grass thing or they are giving the different Congressmen a hard time, that's manufactured. Yes.

But it's a mistake to think that the rage and the confusion and the anger that a lot of people are feeling is manufactured. Those people at those town hall meetings are just showing off or they have been sent there by certain people. But behind them in every small town in America and every big city in America there are people really concerned about the bill.

QUEENAN: And that is not manufactured. It's going to be a mistake for the Democrats to act like this is a swift boat sign that this is just going to get shot down because people saw town hall meetings. The town hall meetings are this manufactured hysteria. But the anger and confusion about the health care thing, that's authentic.

ROMANS: Chris Gardner is the White House and Democrats are people who are trying, who are the proponents of reform, are they underestimating I guess the public mistrust of this whole process?

GARDNER: I think one of my best friends Dr. Robert Ellis who happens to be one of the top young heart surgeons in the world told me 25 years ago the answer to the health care issues in America, Americans want the best doctor, they want them when they want them and they want them for free. In other words, they both want the same things all these politicians are getting. That's all people want. They want the same thing the politicians get.

ROMANS: If it's good enough for my elected officials, that's the way it should be for me too. Including their paycheck right?

GARDNER: If it's good enough for a Senator, I'll take that too.

ROMANS: Ali what are the folks telling you as you are crossing the country about that out rage? I mean you are seeing much more civility when you sit down and talk to people. Because that is maybe because -- VELSHI: Well I think that is exactly right. I think Joe is right. I think we should have media coving these town hall meetings but I think when people know they are being covered and they say something and everybody is clapping them on I think they overreact by a little bit, but that does not mean it's absolutely legitimate.

I have been hearing exactly the same concern, pro health care reform, and against healthcare reform all across America, it is just that the volume when we do it is a little, the disagreements are there, but they're a little -- you know, a little more respectful, but it's real.

People are concerned about the cost of health care, they're concerned about quality of health care, and they're concerned about accessibility. They want options, they want to choose their doctors, and they want to be able to get the services that they want when they want them. There are really real concerns but maybe the discussion needs to take a turn and be had in a different fashion.

ROMANS: Lets talk a little bit about the banks; I want to talk a little bit about the banks here. You know it was just a matter of months ago that the American taxpayers bailed out a whole bunch of banks and now that they're showing stability, it's a fee frenzy. They're collecting more than $38 billion in overdraft fees this year, a report out just found that 10 percent of customers wind up paying up 90 percent of all these fees.

The knee jerk reaction is to get angry at companies and their fees but are we short changing personal responsibility Ali on the bank fees issue -- they're charging a lot of money, but you know what if you're overdrawn, I mean, you're overdrawn.

VELSHI: You and I have talked about this type of thing so much that we do have to have personal responsibility around managing our bank balances and knowing what's going on. We've been getting a lot of complaints in the last few months in particular about these bank drafts, these overdraft fees. They do seem egregious.

I think what they do, is sometimes they put you in to such a more serious overdraft. But you know if you can't handle an overdraft make sure you don't have one and then if you write a check against an account that doesn't have the money in it. You will also pay a fee for that. So we do have to manage our bank account.

ROMANS: Everyone wants to hate the banks, they took our money, and we took our money, later we're told they were told they had to take the money. Citi Bank still basically a ward of the state at this point. But all these fees.

Did anybody ever tell the banks that they had to be personally responsible for anything?

QUEENAN: I mean ordinary people who borrow too much money; they have to pay all these enormous fees. The guys who work for Citi Group, the guys who work for Bank of America, the guys with Countrywide Financial, they didn't have to be personally responsible. So all of sudden it is now the banks, in and out banks that have literally pushed the country into almost a depression now it's like, you have to be personally responsible. There's adult supervision here.

VELSHI: Really good point, it's a really good point, Joe, but it still doesn't excuse any of us, the banks, Corporate America or individuals from our own personal responsibility.

QUEENAN: I want to be in their business. I want to be in their business. They're making more money than organized crime. Because they get the money from the government, they get it to you, they lend it to you, you borrow too much money, you have to pay all these overdraft fees and they don't have to do anything.

ROMANS: I see Chris Gardner laughing over there in Chicago, Chris.

GARDNER: I'm just laughing because, you know what? I have been blessed to get to the point where -- when I write a check now the bank bounces.

ROMANS: Oh! That's where we all want to be. Right? Another couple stories out this week, you guys want to talk about, raise the possibility of maybe a brain drain of sort here at home, a report the "USA Today" found a rising number of college graduates heading to China to take advantage of its surging economy, it's lower cost of living at the same time petition for U.S. worker green cards here at home are way down. Employers sponsored applications for work-based green cards have been cut in half.

Chris Gardner, is the American dream over? Do we have to look overseas to find the American dream?

GARDNER: Well, you know what's interesting? Is that if you talk to head hunters or some of the search parties, they will tell you that this trend began maybe a year ago, 18 months ago, more and more Americans are looking around the globe for opportunities to pursue their careers. And it only makes sense, as globalization has done what is done.

It's the first talent and opportunities around the world. And I said it some time ago, I saw this coming. I saw the day where you would see America sneaking across the border to Mexico to find a job. Now, I said it in jest at the time, but the reality is, it's happening. And it makes sense to me.

QUEENAN: You want to go to China and make $80 a week and have the worst pollution in the world and drive crumby cars and have the tanks come into Tiananmen Square, be my guest.

VELSHI: And have 10 percent economic growth. And be the center of the developing world. Listen I want to tell you something Christine, I just thought about this. It was a year ago or a year and a half ago we had a guy named Brad Carsh (ph) on the show. Brad is the guy we had on from time to time. And we were pushing for ideas for people who were losing and he said, go to China to get a job. I think I literally saw smoke and steam coming out of your ears, and now look what's happening.

QUEENAN: JP Morgan said the man who is bearish on the future of America is a fool. And that's what I believe. You want to go to China and leave the greatest economy the world has ever known, be my guest. I'll pay your air fare.

GARDNER: I don't think it's a matter ...

ROMANS: I believe this country, we are -- we elect people to make this a nice place to live, to raise your family, to have opportunities of all different stripes. If you have to go to a developing nation to do that, oh, my gosh.

QUEENAN: I'm going to France. I'm going to France; I'm not going to go to China.

ROMANS: All right. Listen quickly.

QUEENAN: At least I get a meal in France. I can get a decent pair of shoes in France.

VELSHI: Chris Gardner, I will send you a postcard from our fact- finding mission in Shanghai.

ROMANS: All right. Great. I want to ask Chris Gardner one last question. Four out of five economists surveyed by the "Wall Street Journal" this week say the recession is either over or it is ending in the next two months.

GARDNER: Really?

ROMANS: That is what they say. I guess in their pinstripe suits they can figure out that the recession is over or almost over. What do you think, is it over, Chris?

GARDNER: Do me a favor. I'll be giving the key note address at Wayne State University in Detroit next week. Give me the names of those economists so I can go tell 1,000 people in Detroit that the recession is over.

QUEENAN: The same economists who were hesitant to tell us that we were in a recession while the Dow was down to 7500 telling us that we're in a recession, now they tell us, we think we're coming out of a recession. I knew that six months ago when the stock market was down to 6700. You want to know if we're in a recession or out of a recession. Look at the Dow Jones Industrial averages, which by the way they don't have in China.

ROMANS: And I will say quickly about this whole thing is the recession over or not, the same economists who are not saying that the recession is over have been wrong more than they ever had been in the world over the last three years. So that makes me a little bit nervous.

GARDNER: Last thought on this thing, when it's you and your family, it ain't over. ROMANS: All right. Chris Gardner, "Start Where you Are, Life Lessons from Getting Where you are to Where you want to be" thank you so much.

And Joe Queenan an author of "Closing Time."

QUEENAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: Thank you. Up next, how do you feel about the recession? We're going to continue to take a look at this. Is it feeling like the worst is over for you? Ali took the CNN Express over to Main Street, U.S.A and this is what you said.


ROMANS: Is the recession over? You'll find out in a moment, but first, a look at the latest report on the top-paid CEOs of 2008. Topping the list, Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone Group. According to the corporate library he was the highest earning CEO last year raking in $702 million. Very little of that is his actual salary; he makes his salary, $175,000. But the company he founded went public, he got huge stock awards, and that's most of that compensation there.

Just for fun, we thought we'd put all this money in perspective for you with the roman's numeral. There it is. That's the number of Rolls Royce Phantoms you could buy with $702 million. For the rest of us, here's an idea of how long it will take you to make $702 million. Medium household income just above $50,000 if you make $50,000 a year would take you 14,040 years to reach $702 million and even if you make $250,000 a year, that is considered pretty rich in this country, you need 2,808 years to reach that kind of money.

You know, seven of the top ten highest CEOs were oil company executives, Ali. So that answers the question of recession and recovery for the highest paid. But what about the rest of us? Ali Velshi is on Main Street, literally on Main Street, traveling with the CNN Express and talking to folks in America's heartland. Hi Ali.

VELSHI: Hey, Christine. We really put that question to people. I'll tell you, the response I got when I said, you know, these noted economists are saying the recession is over, the Feds say it's bottoming out, nobody said that was hog wash, nobody said that is not true.

Because I think people have become sophisticated about recessions and understand that it may feel like it even if it is ending, it may feel like it a lot later down the road, people understood that until jobs start to come back, until the market really even though it is showing really good signs of life, until we start really making back some of the ground we lost, we're not going to really feel like it.

But people did emphasize that they didn't feel that things had changed enough for them to change their own habits. Things were about forgality, I was at the Missouri State Fair, here is an interesting one, Missouri, Missouri State Fair, Christine, and the fair director there was saying they're emphasizing the rural lifestyle. Which is sort of code for frugality.

They had seminars, little sessions on how to pickle your own stuff, how to grow your own vegetables, how to save money at the shopping center. Those were the kinds of things they're emphasizing. People are still about frugality. I don't know if that's because they want to be or that is because they can't get adequate credit, but most people I talked to aren't convinced the recession is over. And they wanted to do what you were talking about earlier, protect themselves and take care of their families.

ROMANS: That is exactly right. Ali. A lot of people are telling me that everything is about the experience now; it's about every time you spend money or you do something that has to do with money, you say to yourself, is this going to make my family better? Is this a smart decision to make? And that's a real new change in consumer psyche. I spent time this week with nine CEOs of a variety of different companies, most of them mid-size companies. And it was interesting three of those nine CEOs are hiring. The rest of them are not.

When I asked them, is the recession over, a majority of economists surveyed by the "Wall Street Journal" say the recession is over. The best they could say is the economy is an anchor dragging along the bottom and it's very difficult to say, yes, the recession is over, when have you to turn around and fire 15 people the next day.

But it's still a difficult situation, it's still a lot of shifting sands in their opinion, about what's happening with health care reform, what's happening with legislation and regulation and rules that are going to affect the way of doing business. So I think we have on Main Street and then we also have people who are running small and mid-size companies who are still feeling an awful lot of uncertainty, Ali.

VELSHI: Yeah. And I think that's exactly right. I do think that things have changed in the last six or nine months, but we don't have the same panic and people have adapted. So they are sort of saying if this is what it is if that anchor is dragging around the bottom for a little while, I can get used to it and I can adapt. So that was the good news.

ROMANS: OK, we'll call it a resubery (ph) for now, until we know for sure that it's a recovery. All right. Ali Velshi thanks.

Do you wish you had an extra $500 in your pocket each month? $500 each month that would be good right? Put you on the path to being a little more financially safe. We will tell you exactly how to turn that wish into reality next on YOUR MONEY.


ROMANS: Free money, if you know where to look. With out sacrificing your style you can start paying less for clothes, cell phones and cable. In some cases you might just have to. This might be a necessity to figure out how to save that money right? The cover of this week's "Money" magazine, says it all, how to spend $500 less every month. Because you want to or because you have to? "Money" Magazine senior writer Donna Risotto is here to explain. I would sure like $500 in my pocket.

DONNA RISOTTO, SENIOR WRITER, "MONEY" MAGAZINE: We all want to save more money these days, right?

ROMANS: It was a few years ago it wasn't really fashionable among personal finance types to talk about denying yourself some things so you could grow your money. You grew your money by borrowing money and trying to grow your wealth. That's over.

RISOTTO: That's true. It is over, it really never made sense. If you think about the one thing you have control over is how much you save and if you can save some money you are always going to be better off. You can't count on your home value increasing but you can control how much you save.

ROMANS: OK, we are going to walk you through three important money saving tips, ways that you can save money and put this money back in your pocket. The first one, auto insurance. If you drive a car, and you have auto insurance you must save money this way.

RISOTTO: This is a quick way to do it. There is a couple things that you can do. One easy way to do it. Everyone has a deductible. Raise your deductible from $250 to $500 you will save 7 percent. Raise it from $500 to $1,000 you will save 14 percent on your insurance. So that is a quick way to do it.

Another way to do it. If your car is older you may not need collision insurance. Quick way to tell is there is a good rule of thumb. If your car is worth less than ten times what you would pay for collision insurance on an annual basis you probably don't need and you can drop it.

ROMANS: Dig for discounts you also say. Shop around. Pay as you drive. What does that mean?

RISOTTO: Well there are some insurance companies that will offer you special discounts. So for example Progressive if you allow them to install a device in your car that tracks you're driving habits and how many miles you drive you can save 30 percent on your insurance. A little bit brothery, but you can save a lot.

ROMANS: So they know if you are like gunning, do they know if you are going real fast from the stoplight.

RISOTTO: They monitor everything.

ROMANS: Not a good idea. Lets talk about timing your buys right. There is an old saying on Wall Street I think that you buy felt hats in, I can't remember. Straw hats in February and winter coats in July.

RISOTTO: Good advice.

ROMANS: When something is out of season that is when the value is.

RISOTTO: And there is pretty much an off season for almost everything. One great example, linens, if you want to buy your linens if you buy them in January you can save up to 40 percent. The reason is, it's calculated. There is a big winter white sale. And stores want to have people come in after the holiday season. So they put it up to 40 percent off on sheets, towels, bedding.

ROMANS: We have done this segment so many times about haggling. Some people prefer to call it negotiation, because it just sounds more polite and maybe more classy than haggling. But you can haggle over high rates. You can negotiate for services in what kind of areas?

RISOTTO: In a lot of areas, we like to think of it a well placed threat. But you know, more of a buyer's market today. For example with a credit card. If you don't like the rate that you have, call, ask if you can get, you know a better rate. This is going to work a whole lot better if you have a decent credit score, so 750 or higher. Keep asking, you know for a better rate. It also works very well with other utilities. For example with your cell phone ask to have your activation fee waived. If you can, $40 off. An existing customer, threaten to move to another carrier. You can get 10 to 20 percent off.

ROMANS: I have personally haggled for car rental and hotel and it worked very, very well. In fact the other person on the hotel line said nobody had been paying the listed price for some time. People have been haggling. Also, we had a guest on who said you can haggle for plastic surgery. So if you have money left and you want to feel good about yourself, apparently it's cheaper to get plastic surgery done. Who knew?

RISOTTO: It never hurts to ask.

ROMANS: It never hurts to ask.

Donna Risotto, "Money" Magazine, great piece, a great issue. Thank you so much.

Up next, we'll talk about preventative health care or lack there of, specifically about my co-host's diet on the CNN Express. Not very many fruit and vegetables at least that were not fried. Far from balanced. He's been having a good time on the road.


ROMANS: All right. My friend Ali was on the road all this week on the CNN Express talking to Americans about their concerns, their problems, everything from the state of the economy to health care. Let's take a look at Ali's journey.


VELSHI (voice over): Good morning, folks. Well after driving through Georgia, and Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois, crossed into Missouri. Now the discussion has been about health care all week. But there has been interest in this idea that some prominent economists have said this recession is over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't get some of these stories unless you go to them.

VELSHI: When they say this recession is over do you feel that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't feel like it is over at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, my personal recession is not over.

VELSHI: Let's talk about the 46, 47, and 50, whatever million you want to use, the number of people who are not insured in this country. What is your thought on that?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just hearing a lot of flack and a lot of meat and potatoes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't believe you are saying that people don't deserve health care if they can't afford it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are all afraid that we are going to lose something.

VELSHI: The general feeling that health care is a problem and something needs to be done. Just a lot of confusion out there about what this thing really is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's written in kind of a confusing manner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a very complex issue. Our health care is 16 percent of our GDP.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are we going to do it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are not informed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You hear the rumors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they're pushing too much change on us at once.

VELSHI: There is some concern that it is moving faster than people can digest the information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that there is something that has to be done. I think to rush through this is the wrong thing.

VELSHI: We're hitting places that don't expect CNN to be there. They don't expect any kind of big media to be there the they might feel ignored.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in a farming community. It's pretty bad.

VELSHI: I can't get enough of this. I can't get enough of actually being out there and talking to people and meeting people. It is such a great feeling. And they talk to us and tell us their stories. Sometimes because we have a camera there. Some times we are just standing there. We get great stories from people because we go to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This makes the electric car feasible.

VELSHI: It is not about people setting up to tell their story. It's about us showing up and asking them to tell their story.

You live in this town. You see the businesses in this town, the people who live here. What is your thought on that?

What it is going to do is equip me to go back now and really start to work on the questions that people have been asking me. The questions that they haven't had answered.

I'm going to go out there and I'm going to work on those stories and I'm going to come back to these towns and say did I answer those questions? Did I help you understand the issue that is so important to you that you asked me about one day?


ROMANS: Ali, just knowing what those questions are that are so important for us to try to figure out what kind of information to give people about this incredibly important debate. What are people telling you about where we go from here, Ali?

VELSHI: Well, people are -- there is hope out there. There is no question about it. People are managing to live their own lives. They want their home values to come back. They want their retirement investments to come back. But they understand that is going to be a long time before that happens.

They're hunkered down for it. People are changing their lifestyles and they are becoming more frugal. But they are survivors, Christine. We don't meet with despair when we go through these towns. We meet with people who have been hit hard by the recession. But they are working hard to get back on their feet.

ROMANS: All right, Ali, incredible piece. Great road trip. Look forward to more great stuff from you this weekend at the Iowa State Fair, my home state.

Also, congratulations to our executive producer, Michael Cane and his wife Jen, for welcoming their very first child. There he is, Aiden Jarrett Cane, weighed in at 6 pounds, 15 ounces. He was 19 inches long. Best of health, and congratulations to all of you. Fantastic stuff.

Thank you for joining us on YOUR MONEY. You can follow Ali Velshi and me on Facebook and Twitter at Christine Romans and at Ali Velshi. Make sure you join us every week for YOUR MONEY, Saturdays at 1:00, Sunday at 3:00 Eastern Time. You can also log on 24/7 to Have a great weekend.