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Fixing What Ails Obamacare

Aired October 21, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, Obamacare's online fiascos.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no sugarcoating it. The Web site has been too slow. People have been getting stuck during the application process. Nobody is more frustrated by that than I am.

ANNOUNCER: Who's to blame? And what should be done?

On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Anne Filipik, president of Enroll America, and Andy Harris, a Republican congressman who's also a doctor.

Fixing what ails Obamacare. Is it a hopeless case? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Obamacare supporter Anne Filipik and one of its opponents, Republican Congressman Andy Harris.

Obamacare is a train wreck. Its problems are so widespread and so obvious, some people think it's hopeless. And I've joined those who are calling for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to be fired. Today even President Obama tried to tamp down the anxiety.


OBAMA: Nobody's madder than me about the fact that the Web site isn't working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed.


GINGRICH: But, you know, the problem is that this creates a general sense of anxiety. If the federal government after 3 1/2 years can't get a Web site right, why would you believe that they're also going to get the doctor right; they're going to get the procedure right medically; they're going to get all this -- This is a really complicated process.

And don't you agree that this has been a much more disappointing start than you had hoped for?

CUTTER: I don't think anybody should be happy with the way this has been rolled out, and the president made that clear today.

However, let's be clear about something. You've been rooting for the failure of this law since even before it passed, and every day since, so I think our viewers should just be clear on that.

GINGRICH: And you've been rooting for its success. Every day.

CUTTER: I have. I have not made a secret of it. But I think that people should know the context of all of our comments here.

And look, you know, have there been technical glitches? Absolutely. But let's remember what this law is about: It's about providing people quality, affordable health care. Despite all of these glitches that I'm sure we'll talk about all night, that there are almost a half million people who have already signed up. On the first day the Web site went live, 2.5 million people went there. So there is demand for this law.

And these things happen. Remember what Michael Dell said about Steve Jobs when he took over Apple in 1997? Forget it, sell everything. Give the money back to the shareholders. Give it up. And now Apple dominates the marketplace.

This happens. It's going to take time to get this up and running. And it doesn't matter what happens today. It has to be up and running by December 15. That is the real test.

So let's bring in our guests into the CROSSFIRE. Anne Filipik is president of Enroll America, which is signing up people for health coverage all across America. Also Maryland congressman and doctor Andy Harris, who was first elected on a promise to repeal Obamacare.

Congressman Harris, or Dr. Harris, whichever you prefer. First question to you: There's pent-up demand for this law that's proven by, you know, in the two weeks that this Web site has been up and running, 20 million people have gone to the Web site to check out their options, 2.5 million on the first day. A half million people have signed up. So there's pent-up demand for reform. They've been waiting decades for it.

So you're an opponent of Obamacare. Like I just said to Newt, you have not been rooting for its success. But, look, this is the law. We have to make this work. Can you put aside your political motivations here, and help fix this and makes it a success?

REP. ANDY HARRIS (R), MARYLAND: Some things are just not fixable. You know, aside from the people that can't get on the Web site, what about the people -- and we here -- and I've got, you know, e-mails here from people in my district who have insurance, and they're seeing their premiums double. They're seeing their premiums increase 50 percent. They're seeing their deductibles go up.

It's not just the people who can't get on the Web site. It's the people who don't really need to get on the Web site who have insurance who are beginning to suffer.

Is the health insurance system broken? Yes, it is, but getting the federal government to a one-size-fits-all approach, you know, it's probably...

CUTTER: But it's not one-size-fits-all. That's not what the law says.

HARRIS: Well, it is, though.

CUTTER: It's not. What's happening in Maryland is very different than what's happening in Ohio. We know that. That's the way the law is working.

HARRIS: The plans have to be the same. They have to have certain mandated coverages. They're expensive. They risk adjust in ways that are going to increase the cost for many people. Now, they will decrease the cost for some.

CUTTER: For most people their costs go down.

HARRIS: But the government -- Oh, no, no, no. Most people who...

CUTTER: On average, 20 percent less.

HARRIS: On the exchanges -- in Maryland, the average premium went up 25 percent; 25 percent in Maryland. The average premium...

CUTTER: I think that we differ on those facts.

HARRIS: Look, in state after state, there are only seven states where the costs went down, 43 states where the costs went up for everyone else.

Now, look, the people on the exchanges who are getting subsidies, no question about it, they're benefiting. It's at the -- it's at the expense of everyone else, and our business environment, our small businesses...


HARRIS: ... who say that they're uncertain. They're dealing with -- they don't even have the regulation.

CUTTER: I just think the facts on the ground aren't adding up. These are the same talking points we've been hearing for 3 1/2 years now. I think what's happening on the ground is very different from what you're saying, and I'm anxious to hear from Anne, who's actually on the ground signing people up.

I think that people's costs are going down, because there is competition in the marketplace. And for those who have never been able to get insurance, because they've either been blocked out or priced out, they now have options. That's going to bring everybody's costs down.

HARRIS: It will absolutely not bring everybody's costs down, especially when the government runs it.

CUTTER: The government is not running it. It's private insurance.

HARRIS: It's called It has dot G-O-V. That means the government runs it.

GINGRICH: The government is...

CUTTER: Anne should answer this.

GINGRICH: The government is -- just to say, the government is setting a whole series of standards. It has a whole series of requirements. Now, within that government-defined framework, you can make other arguments.

But Anne, I want to go back to where we actually are today and why the president had to have this press event today.

When you -- and you played a significant role at the grassroots level on organizing this and helping try to arrange for people at the grassroots to be able to be supported. Did you ever in your wildest dream think that the first couple weeks would be this big a fiasco?

ANNE FILIPIK, PRESIDENT, ENROLL AMERICA: Well, I think that, you know, anyone that's working on this issue, doing the work that Enroll America is doing, which is connecting consumers with the new options for health insurance available to them, I don't think anyone would sit here and deny frustration with what we've seen from so far.

We expected better from the Web site, HHS. The administration needs to do better. And I think what we've seen is them saying, "Yes, this has been unacceptable," and to be working 24/7 to improve it.

We have improved it, and we have seen those improvements.

I think it is also very important to add some historical context here. You look at a lot of different programs that now are considered great successes that had very, very rocky starts.

You look at Massachusetts health reform implementation. In the first couple months, there were reports of issues with the Web site, issues with enrolling via paper application. Only 18,000 people enrolled in the first two months.

Today Massachusetts is the state with the lowest rates of uninsured in the country, and the majority of folks living in Massachusetts say they're happy with the system.

You look at Medicare Part D. In the first -- at this point, three weeks into Medicare Part D being launched, the Web site hadn't even launched yet. It wasn't live. Today, 90 percent of seniors say they're happy with the program.

So you see these programs that now are seen as very successful that had very, very rocky starts. There is a reason that, when Congress drafted the Affordable Care Act, they made the first enrollment period a six-month period, because there was a recognition -- you look at past programs, it's taken some time to work through this.

GINGRICH: So do you think it would have been better to have done the Medicare Part D approach and said, "Until we have a beta test, until we're sure this will work, we're not going to go live"?

FILIPIK: I think what is most important at this point is that people are working night and day to make sure that it is fixed as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, there are many conversations that Enroll America is having, that these local nonprofits, community health centers are having with the uninsured.

When we think of the uninsured in this country, you have to understand. If you haven't had health insurance, you might not even know what a premium is, so you're not ready to just go through the enrollment process. You need to sit down with someone, talk through the process, and learn what the options are to you.

HARRIS: In Maryland you still don't know what the premium is. When you go to the Web site in Maryland, you have to actually put your Social Security number in before you can get a premium. That's unbelievable. You know, everyone tells you don't put your Social Security number on a Web site. In Maryland you actually have to give all your personal information just to -- just to get enrolled, and only then -- and you don't even see the premium.

And one of the reasons why it's so complicated and it's failed is because in states like Maryland, they don't want to show you the whole premium. They only want to show you your subsidized premium. So you know, in an age of transparency, I find this very strange that the most transparent administration ever won't actually show you what the premium actually is.

FILIPIK: Well, I think for...

HARRIS: It's just the subsidized premium.

FILIPIK: What the consumer -- what a consumer cares about is what they're going to be paying each month. And so the subsidized premium is what they will be paying.

HARRIS: What about their doctors? In Maryland, you can't go and see the panels of doctors. You have to sign up for the plan with the hope that maybe your doctor is on that plan, because remember, in 2007 -- or 2009, the president said, "Don't worry. If you like your plan or your doctor, you get to keep it." In Maryland you can't even tell.

CUTTER: No, I think that -- look, I think that most of these Web sites, and I know lets you compare apples to apples between plans. For the first time ever. It's never been like that. In plain English for consumers to see. Usually that veil of secrecy and confusion has kind of screwed consumers.

HARRIS: That's because it told -- It tells the insurance company, it mandates what they have to sell.

CUTTER: So you want it both ways?

HARRIS: No, I -- no...

CUTTER: You want it to be clear, but then don't want to force insurance companies...

HARRIS: No, I have 75-year-old -- I have 75-year-old people writing to me, saying they don't understand why they have to cover -- why their insurance has to cover X, Y and Z, things that they will never need. Maternity benefits, they're never going to use it. Their plan has to cover it. Things like this.

So it's kind of one-size-fits-all. That's the way the government tries to work. Doesn't usually work very well.

CUTTER: Yes. Yes, I think those benefits are widely popular.

HARRIS: Not to the Medicare population.

CUTTER: And the -- you know, for the first time ever, you don't have an annual limit.

HARRIS: And that's good. That's good.

CUTTER: So if I get cancer, I'm not going to hit my annual limit in the first two months of treatment. If I have a preexisting condition, nobody can tell me I can't get care. These are real reforms that aren't possible, unless you're reforming...

HARRIS: No, Maryland you had. No, that's not true. In Maryland we had preexisting coverage, and we had coverage up to age 26. We didn't need the federal government to come in and tell us how to run our health care.

GINGRICH: At the same time, it does seem to me that -- and I appreciated Stephanie putting a mark-up earlier, December 15. We will -- we'll remember that. But what if, in fact, it runs longer than that?

There's a process where I think it's more complicated than you're suggesting. There are places where they're saying, "Well, here's your premium, but by the way, here's just what just happened to your deductible." And there are a number of stories of people who suddenly have their deductible doubling and tripling. That seems to be very real.

If you go to -- I guess it's the bronze plans that have dramatically higher deductibles. FILIPIK: Well, you have to understand, for most people shopping at the health insurance marketplace, they have not had health insurance in the past. And when they have shopped, they haven't been able to find something that was affordable and met their needs.

So this is truly a whole new world for them and a whole new option of being able to compare plans that work for them, choose the kind of coverage that they want, and getting financial assistance.

So this is -- these are new opportunities for consumers. And part of this that we're talking about is the fact that the Affordable Care Act that Stephanie's referring to requires plans to cover essential benefits.

I couldn't tell you how many stories I've heard of people who had a plan, who paid what they thought was a great deal, a low premium, and then, you know, the unimaginable happens. They get diagnosed with cancer. They get in a car accident. And lo and behold their plan doesn't cover what they need. And in their words, "My plan is worthless if it doesn't cover my needs." So what we're seeing...

CUTTER: OK. We're going to get to a break. And absolutely, I think Anne is right. If people who see their deductibles going up, I think that they didn't have health care before, but most people are seeing their deductibles go down, and they know what their plans are able to offer.

So if you think Obamacare has problems, look at the state of the Republican Party. Next, I'll ask Congressman Harris how much damage Republicans have already done to themselves.


CUTTER: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Enroll America president Anne Filipik and Congressman Andy Harris -- Republican Congressman Andy Harris, just so there's no confusion.

Congressman, only 20 percent of the people in a new CNN poll just out today say that Republican -- Republican members of Congress should be reelected. And 54 percent say Republican control of the House is bad for the country. That's below where Democrats were in 2010.

So my question is, your position on Obamacare, what we just went through over the last two weeks, which you were a supporter of, how badly has that damaged the Republican Party?

HARRIS: I think when we start seeing the roll-out of -- and the full roll-out of Obamacare, when everybody's going to have to pay the -- 80 percent of the Americans are going to have to pay an increased premium in the next three months...

CUTTER: According to whom?

HARRIS: In Maryland, the average payment has gone up 25 percent. Now, the people who are getting subsidies on the exchanges will be happy. The vast majority of people won't be. Businesses as they approach the expiration of that -- of the relief from the mandate for large businesses, they're going to start hiring part time again. You know, they hired part time for the first six months of this year...

CUTTER: So you're just rooting for the failure of this for your...?

HARRIS: We're not rooting; we're just reporting. We're not rooting; we're just reporting what's happening. When America sees what this is about, they're going to remember that one party said this plan isn't going to work for the majority of Americans. They'll remember that at the polls next time.

CUTTER: Well, that -- the facts aren't proving to be true at this point, but hey, we'll see.

But fast-forward this to January for me, when we're back in the budget negotiations, and have to make some pretty big decisions. You were a supporter of the plan to shut down the government over Obamacare. Are you going to be a supporter of that again?

HARRIS: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. We voted four times to keep the government open. It's the Democrats that voted against the plan to keep it open.

CUTTER: A majority of your caucus, a majority of the House of Representatives wanted to vote on a clean budget bill that had nothing to do with Obamacare and your leadership wouldn't let that happen. So therefore, the government shut down. So is that what we're going to see in January?

HARRIS: I don't ask the president. The president says he's not going to negotiate on anything. I don't understand. In the American system, I'm not -- I don't understand how that works...

CUTTER: On repealing Obamacare.

HARRIS: Actually we weren't talking about repeal, Stephanie. We were talking about delay the initial mandate.

CUTTER: Well, it was -- well, it was defund.

HARRIS: No special deal for Congress.

CUTTER: Delay.

HARRIS: Stephanie, the -- that Sunday before the shutdown, the bill that went to the Senate was no special deals for big...

CUTTER: Well, I will admit you did change your demands over time.

HARRIS: ... no special deals for Congress. And if we think special deals are good, let's have at it.

GINGRICH: Let me -- let me, Anne, pick up on a part of what Congressman Harris was saying earlier. And I think it helps to look at the picture of the president today and the 13 people who were standing with him. Because it's fascinating. Good White House staging. Both of you understand perfectly. But only three of the 13 people are directly affected. The rest were there testifying that they're really happy, that they had not, in fact, at this stage signed up.

The woman who introduced him, it took seven hours to sign up in Delaware. And here's the question. I think you're being pretty successful in places like Oregon, getting young people to sign up for Medicaid. But there's a real danger actuarially, that if this is hard enough to sign up for, people with preconditions who are desperate for it will take the extra time. Young people will decide they're willing to pay the tax and not sign up for it. At that point, isn't the underlying structure in real trouble by January or February if that turns out to be the case?

FILIPIK: Well, I think a few things. I think the fact that Janet, I think, was the name of the woman who introduced the president, that she spent -- she went through the process and was willing to spend seven hours to go through and go through the process of enrolling in coverage. That says something about what this means to her.

And that is -- that is really reflected in the conversations we're having. We've had conversations with over 16,000 -- one-on-one conversations with individuals across the country since October 1. What we're hearing is consumers are frustrated with, without question. But they remain undeterred.

And when you look at the success, the long-term success of the Affordable Care Act, the question is what does this mean to people? And the fact that they are -- that Janice was willing to do that.

I also would point to -- I think we heard for a very long time that young, healthy people weren't going to have any interest in this. And it's certainly too early to make any declarations about that.

But in the first week or so, the state of Connecticut put out some numbers, showed that one out of three folks that enrolled were between the age of 18 and 35. And just the story that we're hearing. A story of Daniel, who's a college student in Florida. He got a plan for $70 a month. He was actually planning -- paying $70 a month previously. The difference is his previous plan was a catastrophic plan that only allowed him to visit the doctor three times in a year. His new plan is a gold plan that covers much more benefits.

So I think what you're seeing is actually a lot of interest. The issues of need to be resolved, but people are hungry. And I'll tell you: People are not deterred by this out there.

GINGRICH: Andy, what's your experience?

HARRIS: Well, all I can tell you is in Maryland we have a lot of young people who go to the Web site who sign up but don't sign up for the plan. They -- you know, they put their information in. I think what they're doing is they're seeing the premiums. They're seeing the costs. I think they're looking at those $6,000 deductibles. In Maryland it's $6,350 is the deductible in the catastrophic plan for young people.

And I think that, if they think about it, I think they're thinking, "Wait a minute. I got to pay -- I got to pay a monthly premium or I can pay, you know, a couple hundred dollars penalty." Because again, we do have individual mandate tax still there. Not on big corporations but on individuals.

Or I can pay $114 a month, which is the cheapest plan, about 114 a month, not 80 like the president said, with Prince Georges County. And then I'd have to pay the first $6,000 out of my pocket, except for the three routine visits, which actually young people usually don't go to the doctor three times a year. That's just the way they are.

I don't think they're going to see value in it. I don't think they're going to see -- even subsidized, I don't think they're going to see value in it.

GINGRICH: So is there a risk -- because if this ends up -- and there's no question, if you need high-risk insurance, you're very grateful for it. But is there a risk that this actually becomes a high-risk pool rather than an actuarially-sound pool?

FILIPIK: I have to tell you, what we're seeing so far, the reaction we're hearing from consumers, and some facts that we're learning early on in the process, is it's not the case. It's that people, including young, healthy people who understand the financial peace of mind that comes with having health insurance, that they want it. And so I don't think...

HARRIS: But Anne, young healthy people ...

CUTTER: ... locked into a job. You know a young person...

GINGRICH: I love these anecdotes. Why is the administration not making it public?

FILIPIK: Making what public?

GINGRICH: Who's signing up?

FILIPIK: They are.


CUTTER: They set a date when...

GINGRICH: Sometime, OK. So presently -- because my sense, Anne, here is that an awful lot of the younger people who are signing up are signing up for Medicaid. And that that, in fact...

CUTTER: That's not proving to be true. You're talking about Oregon.

GINGRICH: Oregon is a big special case.

CUTTER: They've reduced -- they've reduced their uninsured population in two weeks by 10 percent. Now, some of that is Medicaid. But some of it is health care.

GINGRICH: Says the majority of it is Medicaid.

CUTTER: But Connecticut, Maryland, there are indications that young, healthy people are signing up for this.

HARRIS: Young, healthy people could always buy insurance. They could buy it actually cheaper than under the Affordable Care Act unless they get a subsidy. And some people will get a subsidy.

But in Maryland, for young healthy people the premiums went up by as much as 150 percent. The fact of the matter is, this is not an affordable insurance unless you get the subsidy. So if you're going to get the subsidy, Obamacare's a great deal, because somebody else is paying for your premium.

If you're paying for your premium, or if you're a small business that has -- that has to figure out how many workers you can hire, it's not a good deal.

GINGRICH: Everyone stay here. Next, we "Ceasefire." Is there anything the two of you can agree on?

We also want you to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Should the insurance mandate be delayed due to Obamacare Web site failures? Tweet yes or no, using #Crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


GINGRICH: We're back with Anne Filipik and Congressman Andy Harris. Now let's call a "Ceasefire." Is there anything we can agree on? You two get to start.

HARRIS: So Anne, I mean, clearly the health insurance system was broken. I mean, it was complicated. It was hard for people to get insurance. There were lifetime caps, for instance. And, you know, it's good that we now have a discussion going on nationally about health insurance with groups like yours that actually go out and try to educate people about it, because it's a complicated product to buy.

FILIPIK: Absolutely. I agree. I think probably where we differ is if the Affordable Care Act is a good solution.

And I'll tell you, in the conversations that we at Enroll America are having with our "Get Covered, America" campaign across the country, folks are so hungry for the facts, as you described. To have an organization that can show up and say, "Here's what this means to you. Put the politics aside. Here's what's available to you."

And I'll tell you, when we're talking to them about the fact that at these health insurance marketplaces, you can't be denied because of a preexisting condition, that the plans are required to cover the essential benefits, that help is available to pay for it, that goes a long way. So I think that's probably where we disagree. But I think the fundamental belief that the system hasn't worked before is something that we can agree on.

HARRIS: And we need to make sure that more Americans are insured. There's no question about it.


CUTTER: OK. Well, that was -- that was a great "Ceasefire." Thank you. Thanks to Anne Filipik and Congressman Andy Harris.

Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question: "Should the insurance mandate be delayed due to Obamacare Web site failures?" Right now, how many -- 51 percent of you say yes. And 40 percent of you say no.

The debate continues online at, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich. Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.