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Better Insurance... Or None?

Aired October 29, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, Obama care hindsight. When the president said...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period.

ANNOUNCER: ... did he know millions of plans would be canceled? And when she said...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: CMS is ready for October 1.

ANNOUNCER: ... should she have known the Web site wasn't?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to apologize.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Congressman Keith Ellison, who supports Obama care, and Bill Kristol, who opposes it.

Who knew, and who should have known? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

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

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

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Congressman Keith Ellison and Bill Kristol from -- the editor of "The Weekly Standard."

Over the last 24 hours, some people would have you believe that President Obama intentionally misled you about what happened to your health-care plan after the Affordable Care Act passed. That's not true. If you had an individual plan before the law passed in 2010, the president said that you could keep it, and you can, unless your insurer makes major changes, like increasing your cost or cutting your benefits. That turnover in the individual market has been going on for decades.

Listen to one of Florida's top insurance executives talking about it.


PAT GERAGHTY, CEO, FLORIDA BLUE: We're not cutting people. We're actually transitioning people. What we've been doing is informing folks that their plan doesn't meet the test of the essential health benefits. Therefore, they have a choice of many options that we make available through the exchange. And in fact, with subsidy, many people will be getting better plans at a lesser cost.


CUTTER: He's right. This is like your car being recalled by the manufacturer because the brakes don't work. You're getting a better product. The White House may have oversold how little change there would be in the individual market, but there's no conspiracy here. The individual market has been broken for a very long time. But today that changes.

If you have a pre-existing condition like high blood pressure or asthma, you can no longer be denied or forced to pay more. Half of Americans in the individual market will receive tax credits to help them pay for it. So this is a better deal at a better cost, and you have a much, much greater choice than you had before. Newt, have at it.

GINGRICH: You may be as good a salesman for an impossible position as I've ever run into. The president of the United States runs around the country, and we can put up two hours of clips. "You will not lose your plan. You will not lose your doctor". Now, that's just not true. Wait a second.

The fact is there are clearly people in this country who are losing. He didn't qualify. He didn't say "under the right circumstances." He said, "You will not." And this is why you have such cynicism about government.

CUTTER: Are you caught up with the president not telling the full story? Or are you more caught up with people getting a better deal in the individual market?

I think that's what this comes down to, whether we're going to look at the policy and what is happening with the American people as a result of the health-care reform, or are we going to look at political talking points?

GINGRICH: Well, it's not political talking points. Part of the nature of a free society is it's nice to have a president who is straight with you, because the next time he says something -- this is what caught up with him on Syria. The next time he says something, you start saying, "Wait a second, maybe I don't believe that."

But in the CROSSFIRE tonight, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard."

And let me start, Keith. Along the same line, this just keeps going. Last night we had Valerie Jarrett tweet the following: "Nothing in Obama care forces people out of their health plans. No change is required unless insurance companies change existing plans." Now I just -- I'm going to you in a second, but the Obama care law requires the insurance company to change the plan. The insurance company then says, "I'm now changing your plan." And the government, which makes them change their plan, is saying it's the insurance company's fault. What am I missing?

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: I think it's substantially true. The fact of the matter is -- is that we have 85 -- about 80 percent of the people who have employer-based health care, their situation is essentially the same, only it's better because now we have insurance reform that makes this thing, as Stephanie said, pre- existing conditions and other things work better.

On the folks who are in the individual market, we've now said you can't have a plan that basically has all these fine-print points and doesn't pay. There has to be some basic standards. And so if the plan you're offering doesn't meet those standards, then you've got to upgrade. That's what this is all about.

The fact is I think that this is an improvement in people's lives. We're one month out from October 1. We are scrutinizing this thing. And let's face it, Newt, there's a lot of people whose scrutiny isn't on the up and up because they've never liked insurance reform.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It's nice of you -- it's nice of you to improve people's lives, but maybe they should have a say in it. How many of the plans -- how many of the people -- 19 million...

ELLISON: November 2012, I mean, people did make a choice.

KRISTOL: Right. And the president went around the country saying, "I'm going to take away your health-insurance plan"? He said the opposite. They made a choice, thinking that they could keep their health insurance under Obama care.

CUTTER: You're talking about 5 percent of the population.

KRISTOL: I'm sorry, 19 million people purchased individual health-insurance plans in the United States last year. Those are 19 million Americans. How many of them are grandfathered in? How many are grandfathered? How many?

CUTTER: Bill, you understand what happens in the individual marketplace. Nobody keeps their plan year after year. Very few of them do. That's the nature of an individual marketplace.

KRISTOL: ... plan that they would like...

CUTTER: And they would like to get a better plan.

KRISTOL: ... keep their plans. I'm sorry.

ELLISON: If it has an expiration date.

KRISTOL: Oh, and that's just tough on you, and then you have to go on the exchanges and take the plan they want you...

CUTTER: That's the market.

KRISTOL: That's not the market.

CUTTER: That is the market.

KRISTOL: Before, people could buy a plan. In a free country. Let me just ask you this. Why would you support -- you could have all these features you want. If my friend in Washington, D.C., who got his notice of cancellation last week, likes his card plan, and the insurance company likes selling him his card plan. And he's a bright guy; he's a Ph.D. He's read the fine print. He doesn't need Keith Ellison or Stephanie Cutter or anyone else to explain to him what he needs, why can't he renew it? Why can't he renew it?

ELLISON: Because -- I'm going to answer. Because we don't make public policy based on your friend. We make it for a country. And if your friend...

KRISTOL: And if you make public policy for all...

ELLISON: And if your friend -- if your friend wants to go to a restaurant that has a bunch of health code violations because it's cheaper there, well, you know what? The health inspector might say, "No we're not going to do that. We're not going to allow that."

KRISTOL: This was fully legal.

ELLISON: It didn't meet the basic requirements of the law, Bill, so there had to be something.

KRISTOL: OK, that's great. There has to be some changes. Is that what the president said? There has to be some changes? The president said, "You can keep your plan, period."

ELLISON: No, what he said is, it was a campaign speech. He's not a...

KRISTOL: He said it. He said it a hundred times. He said it in a prepared speech to the American Medical Association. You can keep your plan, period.


GINGRICH: Hold on. Hold on, guys.

ELLISON: And that is substantially true. And anybody who --

KRISTOL: Oh, you don't believe that, Keith.

ELLISON: Of course I do. Eight percent of the people in employer situations the only change was that their plan choice got better.

GINGRICH: He didn't say that. And this is -- I think this is fundamental to running a free society. He went -- and he didn't say -- it wasn't a policy -- come on. He went around the country, over and over. I think we could fill two hours with excerpts of Barack Obama saying you could get -- they're lying to you. You get to keep your plan. And you get to keep your doctor.

ELLISON: For the people on employer-based health care, that's true. You agree with that. Eighty percent of the people. Eighty percent of the people.

KRISTOL: That's not entirely true for people with employer-based health care.

ELLISON: If we're having a new law we know there will be changes. Right?

CUTTER: There is something else going on here. There is something else going on here. And Bill, let me talk to you about this.

ELLISON: Bill's for the status quo.

CUTTER: You've been against this plan. That...

ELLISON: Yes. He's for -- go for it.

CUTTER: You've been against this plan from the beginning.

KRISTOL: You get to keep your plan, Congressman Ellison?


KRISTOL: Really?

ELLISON: No. I got to go through the exchange.

KRISTOL: With 75 percent of your plan subsidized by the taxpayer, unlike anyone else on the exchanges.

ELLISON: Wait a minute, my employer -- this is an employer subsidy. This is what we had before. As a matter of fact, you know, the reality is that members of Congress do have to go through the exchange. I'm going in through the exchange.

KRISTOL: With 75 percent subsidy from the taxpayer that no one else on the exchange gets.

ELLISON: Well, wait a minute.

KRISTOL: And you -- and the Republicans in the House tried to stop...

ELLISON: What was the deal before? Right? I used to have federal...

KRISTOL: You get to keep your plan. Unlike everyone else in America, you get the same arrangement. ELLISON: Bill, I'm in the exchange.

CUTTER: We can discuss what members of Congress are getting, but that's not really the point here. The point is that you've been against the health-care law from the start. You've been against the health-care law from the start. There's something else going on here.

In the '90s it was the same situation. You wrote a famous memo in 1993 saying Republicans should not compromise with Democrats, because it would make the Democrats the party of the middle class forever. And that's exactly what's going on here. People are making political points here. They're not making substantive points. We're not even giving this law a chance. We're a month into it being implemented. As of January 1 -- as of January 1, we'll know.

KRISTOL: I'm not the one -- I'm not the one who's stopping it from being implemented.

CUTTER: February 1 we'll know. March 1 we'll know.

KRISTOL: I totally agree.

CUTTER: But don't you agree that people are making political points here?

KRISTOL: I'm not making any point. I mean, I didn't...

ELLISON: Here's the larger question.

KRISTOL: I didn't do anything about the Web site. I didn't say if you wanted your plan you could keep it. All my...

ELLISON: Bill, Bill, Bill, don't you agree....

KRISTOL: My only point is why can't people keep their plan?

ELLISON: Bill, don't you agree that what we had before we passed the Affordable Care Act was an unacceptable situation for millions of Americans? Don't you agree we needed reform?

KRISTOL: Yes, and we didn't need to reform it in such a way that people who liked their plan had to have it taken away from them.

ELLISON: So -- so what is it? So...

KRISTOL: Many Republicans and many Democrats proposed ways to reform health care.

ELLISON: And by the way, the health-care bill we have is modeled on a Republican plan. I mean, the fact is that the Massachusetts law, this comes up out of a Republican...

CUTTER: Heritage Foundation.

ELLISON: And so now you guys don't like the porridge that you cooked. I mean, come on. GINGRICH: Hold on a second. It's not accurate to say, "Let's wait for a while." People in Florida...

ELLISON: You got to give it a chance.

GINGRICH: People in Florida, 300,000 have been told they will be, quote, "transitioned."

CUTTER: To a better plan. In the individual market, it happens every single year. It happens every single year. You guys are defending a broken market. That's what you're defending.

ELLISON: Oh by the way -- oh, by the way, what do we have, 8 percent inflation? Medical inflation. Now we're down about 5.6. And we're even bending the cost curve down. More people are going to have health care insurance before. You can't expect to have -- to change the law and have everything perfect.

KRISTOL: These places are not...


GINGRICH: All right. Hold on.

KRISTOL: Have you looked at the plans on the exchanges?

GINGRICH: OK. Just stick with us.

KRISTOL: All right.

GINGRICH: After all the administration's stonewalling today in a hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, testifies on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

Next, I'll tell you what I would like to ask her.


GINGRICH: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Congressman Keith Ellison and "Weekly Standard" editor Bill Kristol.

I have some important questions for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and we're in luck. Because she's in Capitol Hill tomorrow to testify about the Obama care rollout fiasco. The first thing I'd want to know is "Are you going to enjoy life back in Kansas?"

CUTTER: Seriously?

GINGRICH: But on a more serious level -- I'm just doing that for you. Who thought the Web site would work on October 1? Who's responsible? Her department or the White House? Somebody has to take responsibility.

I'd also ask for accurate information about how many people are signing up. After all, it's her obligation to report to the Congress and to the country.

And Congressman Ellison, I want to ask you. CNN late today got a report from CGI, the contractor, that they had apparently warned CMS, at least, that the system wasn't going to work sometime around September 1. They gave the warning and said there's a really high probability this is going to crack and not function. Would we have been better off, and would the country have been better off to have postponed it for a month, to have found some way to have an orderly process of rollout?

ELLISON: No, you know, I think once we had an October deadline, you know, we needed to move that forward. You know, we do have people who have signed up, got accounts. In the state of Minnesota we've got 19,000 people who've got accounts. We have a good number that have actually signed up.

I just think that, you know, you put that deadline out there, and you drive toward it. You know -- I mean, you know, I think that there are reasonable points to be made about management. But I don't think that you move the date, because that also brings forth a whole bunch of other problems.

I mean, at the end of the day, you know, people -- people do need to -- we need to get this health-care bill up and running.

CUTTER: That's right.

ELLISON: And you start moving this thing and moving it and moving it. The next thing you know, we don't have it.

GINGRICH: So -- but should Secretary Sebelius be held accountable?

ELLISON: Everybody should be held accountable. I believe in accountability. But that -- throwing blame around is a different thing. And let's just face it. Tomorrow's hearing, you know, part of it -- some of it will be legitimate points of view, questions being asked. But there's going to be a lot of political theater there, too. And there are a lot of people who never liked the Affordable Care Act, tried to repeal it, shut down the government over it, and some of their criticism, I just don't take that seriously.

KRISTOL: Well, they turned out to be right. And they said we're not -- we need to delay the mandate for a year. It's unfair to force people into these exchanges. And now they've indicated -- and you think it's -- gee, it's terrible that people have opposed this bad law all along. That disqualifies you from criticizing it now. It's turning out worse. It's turning out worse substantively.

We'll see, you know what? If it's going great three years from now, if it hasn't been delayed, which I hope it is, and other parts of it haven't been repealed from what they are, I'll come on this show and I'll say, "Guess what? I was wrong."

CUTTER: Great.

KRISTOL: "This government social engineering from the top has worked out great. Just like so many other -- so many others..."

ELLISON: Well, I want to see him apologize.

CUTTER: The only time that...

ELLISON: What about Medicare Part D, though? That wasn't flawless. There are stories about how there were problems with that rollout, too. I mean, sometimes things don't work as planned.

CUTTER: And Democrats got behind Republicans to help fix that law. Listen to what Representative Pascrell said today at the hearing.

ELLISON: Smart man.


REP. BILL PASCRELL (D-NJ), WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: We lost the policy fight. And what did we do? We went back to our districts. And we told our seniors, although we voted no, "We're -- we personally believe, and we'll work with the Bush administration to make it work." That's what we did. And how many of you stood up to do that? None! Zero! Zero!


KRISTOL: Medicare Part D forced no one to buy anything they didn't want. Medicare Part D -- I'm sorry, Medicare Part D was a benefit; people could choose to avail themselves of it or not. We can debate the bill. That is traditional American -- that is traditional American...

CUTTER: The point of that is that Democrats governed. Democrats governed.

KRISTOL: Oh, nonsense. That is traditional American...

CUTTER: They took responsibility and helped Republicans implement that law. Republicans are doing the exact opposite. They're obstructing.

KRISTOL: Republicans have had zero success, unfortunately, in delaying this terrible law...

CUTTER: Twenty-four billion. Shutting down the government.

KRISTOL: ... this terrible law, which infringes on liberty and which is going to make our health care worse.


KRISTOL: Do you not think an obligation...

ELLISON: If the Affordable Care Act works, is that a problem for conservative ideologues like yourself and Republicans generally?

KRISTOL: Work meaning health care in this country is better three years from now?

ELLISON: Right. Does that hurt you?

KRISTOL: Yes, I will say that government social engineering will have worked better.


KRISTOL: But that means until that -- until that happens -- if communism works, will we have been wrong?

ELLISON: Give it a chance. Give it a chance. We're only a month in, Bill.

CUTTER: We are, and we're talking about a Web site...

ELLISON: We're only a month in. We've got to give it an opportunity to work. If it's so bad...

KRISTOL: I'm sorry. People's health is at stake here. You know, Republican House members -- Republican House members were elected to do their job. And part of their job is trying to protect their constituents from this big government program.

ELLISON: Yes, people's health is at stake here. I've got a young woman in my office named Abby. Abby has a serious illness that would have put her into an early grave. That's no exaggeration. Because of -- we've no longer got a way of these exclusions for preexisting conditions, this young woman can get health care and survive and contribute to this community.

It is a matter of life and death. It is serious. And so you're right. We are going to have to fight over this thing, because I mean, and I think the president means to make sure Americans get access to safe, affordable health care.

KRISTOL: Abby did not...

ELLISON: And to have some real limits on what insurance companies can do.

KRISTOL: You did not have to infringe on other people's liberty to help Abby.

ELLISON: I guess I don't buy that.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you a question: How do you draw the line between demagoguery and legitimate oversight? I mean, the hearing today struck me it was a pretty straightforward, very serious set of questions.

ELLISON: It's a good question.

GINGRICH: And tomorrow I suspect that Secretary Sebelius is going to have a similar problem of there's a public visible mess. Somebody is responsible. She's the secretary of health and human services. Isn't that, in fact, precisely the kind of oversight Congress should have?

ELLISON: You can't take the politics out of politics. There will be some theater. That's the way we do.

But my point is at least let her answer the questions. At least respect her. At least give her the time to give a cogent response. Follow up if you need to. But sometimes we get these hearings where there's people yelling, and they're cutting off the witness, and it just go downhill. And I hope we don't do that tomorrow.

GINGRICH: I think it's a big enough issue. Because it is life and death for every American. Think about it. When you start affecting the whole health system, it is an enormous challenge.

ELLISON: But it wasn't working before.

GINGRICH: Look, I'm not saying...

ELLISON: A lot of...

GINGRICH: I'm advocating change.

ELLISON: Fifty million people...

KRISTOL: A lot of Americans were happy with their health care. There were ways to help 50 million or 20 million people without changing the whole system. This was a dream of liberal social engineering for decades that we're now watching go into practice. And like most liberal social engineering dreams, it is not going to be a dream. It's going to be a nightmare.

ELLISON: Like Social Security? Is that what you're talking about? Or Medicare? Or how about the Internet highway system?


KRISTOL: ... safety net.

GINGRICH: Hold on a second.

KRISTOL: Totally unlike that. Did Social Security force people not to save money on their own?

CUTTER: What is social engineering? What is bad about covering people with preexisting conditions? Not making women pay double what men pay? Insuring that young adults get on their parents' coverage? What is social engineering about that? That's good policy. That reduces costs for all of us. Not just that individual.

KRISTOL: Maybe in a fantasy world it reduces costs for all of us.

CUTTER: Preventative care.

KRISTOL: But look, if you want that -- if you want to make particular changes, there are state insurance, there are legislations passed to obvious regulate insurance. It's a highly regulated industry. Why do people who are happy with their insurance, happy with their medical care, employers who are happy with their current situation, have to change? Because people in Washington decided we know better for you than what is good -- we know better what's good for you.

CUTTER: I think employers -- many employers, our business community were telling you that the current system wasn't working. That we were paying extraordinarily more than other countries for our health care, because the system was broken.

So we can debate the status quo. But I think that people were looking for reform, and they were looking for critical changes to their health care to give them power over the insurance companies.

KRISTOL: I agree. I agree with that. I totally agree with that. And they're going to get...

CUTTER: Accountability for insurance companies. Better value.

KRISTOL: ... the kind of reforms they need once Obama care crashes and burns and once conservatives -- and once conservatives can pass actual reforms that help citizens and patients and consumers.

ELLISON: How they get to it...

KRISTOL: Not big business, big insurance, big pharma, whom you when you were at the White House worked extremely effectively with. I've got to say, it was fantastic. You had much better relations with big business than any Republican administration.

CUTTER: That was a nice little dig.

ELLISON: Stephanie, speaking of this, I met with -- I've met with business people in my district. And I -- you know what? They're past all this -- all this stuff about trying to wreck the Affordable Care Act. They're trying to figure out how does it work? How can they make it -- take advantage of it? How can they get the tax credit? That's what they're focused on.

CUTTER: Right.

ELLISON: We've got to stop this thing where they keep on trying to wreck the Affordable Care Act. And I want to invite Republicans to come on board.

CUTTER: Stay here. Next we "Ceasefire." And maybe we can talk about that. How we actually govern. Is there anything that you two can agree on?

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question: "Will Obama care improve your health coverage?" Tweet yes or no using #CROSSFIRE. We'll have the results after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUTTER: We're back with Representative Keith Ellison and Bill Kristol. Now let's call a "Ceasefire." What's it going to be? What do you agree on?

ELLISON: Age before beauty.

KRISTOL: If Stephanie Cutter was still in the White House, this Web site meltdown would not have happened.

CUTTER: That's great.

KRISTOL: Was that -- was that appropriate?

ELLISON: I'd like to see a fair...

CUTTER: I'll not sure everybody agrees with that.

ELLISON: ... a fair, respectful if tough hearing for Kathleen Sebelius tomorrow.

KRISTOL: I agree with that.

GINGRICH: Let me thank Congressman Ellison and Bill Kristol for being here.

Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question: "Will Obama care improve your health coverage?" Right now 29 percent of you say yes; 71 percent say no.

CUTTER: 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.