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What's More Flawed: Obama Care or Investigation?

Aired November 13, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the number everyone's been waiting for.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: One hundred and six thousand Americans have enrolled. We expect these numbers to rise.

ANNOUNCER: Plus horror stories from Obama care Web site insiders. But was today's congressional hearing fair?

REP. JIM COOPER (D-TN), OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: The American people do not want to see a kangaroo court here.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, two members of Congress: Loretta Sanchez, who supports Obama care; and James Lankford, who's against it. What's more flawed: Obama care or the investigation into what's wrong? 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, two members of Congress on opposite sides of the Obama care debate.

So two things happened today. First Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released enrollment figures that show one million people -- one million Americans have been shopping online for new healthcare; 106,000 picked a plan. And the rest, not facing a deadline until January 1, are still choosing their plan.

Now, while those numbers are low, admittedly, they show that there is a demand for health care out there. There's a demand for Obama care, despite a broken Web site.

The second thing that happened is that Republicans still can't help themselves from overreaching and over-politicizing. Take a look at this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: The witnesses are being badgered. I believe in fairness. And the American people do not want to see a kangaroo court here.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: This is not a partisan hearing. I will not having it accused of being a partisan hearing.


CUTTER: This is not a partisan hearings. So there is a divide in Washington between those that want to fix problems in the law and those that want to create problems.

Newt, today's hearing proved once again your guys cannot just help themselves when it comes to Obama care. And many other things, for that sake.

GINGRICH: When you're the opposition party, and the president of the United States gives you...

CUTTER: You're in control in the House.

GINGRICH: And the president of the United States gives you 40 days of disaster, you at least have to have a hearing. And when you ask questions that are embarrassing, Democrats are going to try to protect the president. This is...

CUTTER: Don't you have to take some responsibility for governing, though? There was not one ounce of governing in that hearing today.

GINGRICH: Sure. You do.

CUTTER: They sought to embarrass the witnesses.

GINGRICH: And we're going to talk about that later on. We're going to talk about that later on.

CUTTER: Badger the witnesses.

GINGRICH: Fred Upton has a bill coming up Friday that's a good example of working and governing. But in the CROSSFIRE tonight, Democratic Representative Loretta Sanchez and Republican Representative James Lankford.

And let me start, Loretta. California's an interesting case study. About 37,000 people signed up through the California Web site. But yesterday, the commissioner of insurance indicated that a million Californians are receiving notices that their insurance is terminated. Now if you have 30 times as many people getting a notice as you have signing up, as a Californian, doesn't it concern you that January could turn out to be a real mess at the rate things are going?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, certainly I'm glad I'm a Californian, because in California we definitely adopted Obama care. We said, "Let's make this work." We have an insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, that wants to make it work. We have Covered California.

I actually went into Covered California. Get what, Newt? I found out that the policy that I get through the federal government, it's just a dollar different than the policy that I would get under Covered California. Unfortunately, as a congresswoman, I don't get to go into California's exchange. I'm being forced into D.C.'s exchange, which I didn't know, but you know, that's what OBM, or whoever the personnel office decided for us.

All I want to say is that, yes, I am completely concerned about people who have policies now who are getting these termination notices.

By the way, the ACA, the Obama care law, didn't -- it actually grandfathered people like that, who had policies, to be able to keep them. It didn't grandfather what companies could charge you for that policy. Because in the last three years I've seen the companies in California for individual policies try to do 34 percent increases a year, 43 percent increases a year, 23 percent increases per year. And I was the first one to send a letter to them, to call them in, to talk to Blue Cross Blue Shield and say, "Listen, these are unacceptable. You keep doing this, you're not going to get a chance..."

CUTTER: Under the law, there are new provisions in place to make sure that they can't take advantage.

SANCHEZ: So you know, they have going to increase anyway. Because those policies that these people have, they're obviously not making money on them.

GINGRICH: So let me just ask one question. What happens -- we got into this discussion today, and I don't know the answer to this. What happens if somebody ends up on January 5 in the hospital, thinks they have coverage, don't have coverage? And you know it's going to lead to a lawsuit. So do they sue the federal government? Do they sue the state of California? Do they sue the insurance company which dropped them but no longer has them?

I mean, there's -- when you have a big gap of a million lost policies, and 37,000 so far signing up, you're probably going to have a couple hundred thousand people without insurance in January.

SANCHEZ: Well, first let me tell you something. The number is significantly higher than 37,000. It's embargoed right now. I heard it this afternoon.

CUTTER: Of the people signing up.

SANCHEZ: Of who signed up in California. It's in the hundreds of thousands. I will just tell you that.

I have, in my own district, about 20 forums and telephone forums, talking to people about whether they would go into Medicaid, what they're going to do with Medicare. Even framing it for Medicare. My mom's a Medicare person, right? And she called me and she said, "How do I know? Can you help me know which is the best plan in Medicare?"

I'm like, "I don't know, Mom, but let me get you a specialist on that." So they do have specialists. We do have people.

The problem is we need to get the word out. We need to drag people in. And, you know, I shop online once in a while. I put the thing in the cart. I don't come back and buy it until days later, sometimes a month later. It's still sitting up there.

I know there are a lot of little shopping carts in that Covered California that have a plan in there. You know, if you don't have to pay for it until December, why would you pay for it today?

CUTTER: Right. And isn't there a reality to this, too? So we saw under Medicare Part B that there is a flow ramp up -- Your mom was probably one of them -- in terms of signing up for prescription coverage. People waited until the end and signed up. We also saw this in Massachusetts. Which, you know, as you know, Obama care is modeled after Romney care in Massachusetts.

And take a look at this chart. In the first month of Massachusetts enrollment, only 3 percent of the total signed up, 123 people. But there is a fast ramp-up over the course of the enrollment period. We're going to see the same thing here. It's always been predicted. This is how it works. People wait until they are forced to buy insurance, and then they will.

REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, you used the right word there, "forced" to buy insurance on it, because this is a new day for them.

CUTTER: There is a deadline.

LANKFORD: Well, there is a deadline, and the federal government is coming in saying, "I'm going to fine you and punish you if you don't purchase a product that we like. In my state, we've had thousands and thousands of people that have gotten letters to say, "You're canceled. Because of the Affordable Care Act, this policy's no longer available." And it's not just individuals; it's companies, as well.

The Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, for instance, they've got 1,500 small businesses that get their health care through this group set. Well, that group set is no longer legal. That's now illegal in the Affordable Care Act for chambers of commerce all over the country to actually help provide small businesses a way to be able to get insurance. All of those are out, have to get out.

So this is not some little plan out there for this individual that wasn't enough for the federal government. These are lots of small businesses all over the country that are losing their health- care coverage. As of today when we got to the hearing, I asked directly today some very sharp folks that are from the IT world that are working on this right now. But Todd Park, who's leading this from the White House, could not answer me today whether, by the 15th of December, they'll have the Web site ready. So this is not just a matter of a slow roll-out. This is not even available. So those that have lost their coverage...

CUTTER: Well, the administration has made it clear that by the end of November, most people would be able to use this Web site.

LANKFORD: Well, what's interesting about that is I asked that same question today. I know that Jeffrey Zients has said that publicly. But when I actually asked the I.T. people...

CUTTER: The secretary said that...

LANKFORD: ... that are actually running it and actually have to do the coding, they hesitated and said that's our goal, but we can't guarantee we're going to have it ready by the 15th.

CUTTER: But we're going to know this very soon.

LANKFORD: Well, the problem...

CUTTER: So here's a question for you. We're going to know this very soon.

LANKFORD: Yes. Yes, we'll see.

CUTTER: We hope the Web site will be working.

LANKFORD: Well, I should say. There's lots of -- five million people...

CUTTER: I know that we wish we weren't in this position. However...

LANKFORD: Five million people have lost their insurance. If they don't have it by January 1, they're not covered. And Obama care was created to cover people. Actually, it's created 5 million people uncovered.

SANCHEZ: Let me ask my colleague something. So Oklahoma didn't make its own exchange.

LANKFORD: Right. And we have 346 people that were able to sign up in Oklahoma.

SANCHEZ: You know what? And that's a problem. You know, that's a problem. I mean, there were states again -- I'm so fortunate to be Californian, because we want to make this work. We want people covered. We want people to go in for preventative care. We want to find things early, because it's a lot cheaper for us to treat it there than at the hospital rooms. You know that; we know that. We're bending; we're trying to bend that line. Unfortunately, and you know, your governor, Mary, used to be a colleague of ours, and I worked out in the gym with her in the morning. And so it's really sad that your legislature and/or your governor, however it works, decided not to put up their own exchange. So now it gets pushed to the fed.

The first problem is, there are a lot of people who are sort of dragging their feet, not wanting this to work at all. And that's a shame. But the second thing -- and I agree with you, this -- this Web site should have worked correctly. No doubt about it.

LANKFORD: Let me say one thing on it.

SANCHEZ: Should have worked correctly.

LANKFORD: I have to agree, and that's the reason we had the hearing today. It's basic oversight. When there's something in government that absolutely doesn't work as promised, we should do oversight.

And I know that everyone wants to look at it and say this is a partisan; I can't believe we're doing this. But if you spend $600 million to create a Web site and it doesn't work, I think probably we should ask the basic question of that.

And in Oklahoma, we have something called Insure Oklahoma, where we've been ramping up for years to take care of those that are uninsured in Oklahoma. We've now been notified by the Obama administration that that program is no longer eligible. We have to substitute their program instead. But it's not a matter of...

SANCHEZ: Well, you didn't have to substitute their program.

LANKFORD: Oh, yes, we do, actually.

SANCHEZ: You could have put in your own exchange.

LANKFORD: No, that's actually not true. We -- what we said...

SANCHEZ: Well, we put in our own exchange.

LANKFORD: I understand. If we did an exchange, like the Obama administration wants us to do -- do it, we could do it. But if we had our own system to take care of those in need -- small businesses that want to get into it, individuals that couldn't afford policies, those in poverty...


LANKFORD: ... then we were told, "No, you can't do that anymore. You have to switch to our program instead."

SANCHEZ: Or we want to semanticize (ph) it as we go through the process.

LANKFORD: That's the problem. Having a central government to standardize everybody, that's our problem.

GINGRICH: Let me just -- without noting that Orange County and Oklahoma City are different. Let me just suggest that.

SANCHEZ: A lot of people from Oklahoma settled in Orange County, by the way.

GINGRICH: So on Friday a historic vote is going to occur. Next I'll give you a political scorecard with three numbers. They're all you actually need to look for, and it will tell you everything about the political reality here in Washington this week.


GINGRICH: Welcome back.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, representatives Loretta Sanchez and James Lankford.

Watch Friday when the House votes on a bill by Fred Upton overruling one part of Obama care and allowing people to keep insurance plans they like. If 20 Democrats break ranks and vote with Republicans, it doesn't mean anything. If 40 do, it gets interesting. But if 80 vote with Upton, it's a stampede.

Here's one example of why it could be a stampede. Polls since the Obama care rollout show North Carolina Democratic Senate Kay Hagen, who's up for reelection and vulnerable next year, losing ground dramatically. And so I think this is one of these, don't you have a sense that the pressure is growing to find some answer to this?

SANCHEZ: Well, again, I'll begin by saying this Web site or whatever, there's no reason, if you know it's coming up in three years to not have had that done correctly. I get angry when an Amazon Web site freezes up, when a, you know, airline Web site freezes up. I throw things at it if the history's not coming through, if the DSL is too slow, whatever's going on. So people have a right to be angry, and we need to fix it.

My question is how fast is this fix coming? And will it be done right? And can I get onto it? Can I get what I need? That's what we want. So if you're -- you know, when you're saying, you know, should -- should we stop the mandate? Should we -- as Upton wants? It depends whether we can get this up and running the right way. It really depends how soon we can get this done.

GINGRICH: Let me -- let me just -- let me just ask one thing, which is there's a scale of how big -- bad the last five weeks have been, coming out of the glory days when the government shutdown put the Republicans in a hole.

The latest poll that came out shows that the Democrats have lost nine percentage points. They went from being ahead by nine a month ago to being tied with Republicans. Now doesn't this indicate what some of the pressure is going to be on Friday for incumbents who are looking around, saying, you know, if this goes on for another month or two, and if you end up with a couple million Americans with no insurance in January...

LANKFORD: As we will.

GINGRICH: ... that had insurance in December, this is why I think Upton's bill has the potential to attract a lot of people. But what's your sense? Would you vote against Upton?

SANCHEZ: I -- I'm leaning to vote against it. Because I really do believe -- and I've seen it in my district. I've worked so hard, Newt, to get -- to get it right in my district, to tell people, to talk to them, to go door to door, working. We've got extra funds from the California endowment fund to make sure that we get this out.

And remember that, in my district, 1 out of 3 people have no insurance. And most people don't realize it. You guys are guys. You don't realize that. Women over 50 in particular, but women. Women there's such a differential for the same age of a man and a woman to get insurance. A woman is 3 to 5 times higher premium. Only because she's a woman.

So there are great things, I believe, in the ACA that we need to do. ACA levels off, no bias.

CUTTER: And if you pass the Upton bill. If the House passes the Upton bill, which it's not clear there's going to be Democratic support.

SANCHEZ: There will be some but not a lot.

CUTTER: And it's also not clear that some conservatives are going to go along with this, because they don't want fixes to the bill. They just want to overturn it.

But on the specifics of the Upton bill, it allows insurance companies to keep offering some of those shell plans that they've been offering before Obama care passed. And as Congressman Sanchez -- Congresswoman Sanchez mentioned, it means women can get charged more. It means that your insurance plan can drop you when you get sick. It means it can discriminate against you for coverage based on preexisting conditions. All of these things that have broken our system in the past. Those are the plans that you're going to allow insurance companies to go back to if Upton passes.

LANKFORD: Sure. It's a question...

CUTTER: Are you OK with that?

LANKFORD: It's a fascinating way to be able to look at it. For 1,500 different small businesses, In Oklahoma city, just in my area, that had a health-care plan they liked and that there are people who were involved in, have all been sent a letter now, saying the federal government doesn't approve of your health plan any more. So this conversation about...

CUTTER: If you pass Upton, you know, premiums are going to go up. LANKFORD: No, I don't think premiums are going to go up.

CUTTER: Premiums are going to go up. That's projected up to 20 percent.

LANKFORD: That's a fascinating -- wait, wait. Hold on. That's a fascinating spin to say, because I remember a president that used to say premiums are going to go down $2,500 almost.

CUTTER: And for most people they will.

LANKFORD: And I can point you to thousands of people...

CUTTER: As soon as the Web site starts working, people can find out.

LANKFORD: Here's the problem that we deal with. It's this issue of hopefully someday this is all going to work out and we'll get all these great new magical things and all those prices will drop.

but the problem is the reality of what we're dealing with right now. I can take you to thousands of people in my district that are contacting my office and saying, "This is what my premium was. It's now two times higher or three times higher." Whatever it might be in the process.

CUTTER: And they're not getting subsidies, and not going into small business exchanges.

LANKFORD: I'm quite aware. Because they are pushed out of the policy...

CUTTER: Are you also counting all the people in your district that are getting a better deal?

SANCHEZ: That's because Oklahoma didn't put an exchange in. Oklahoma didn't put an exchange in.

LANKFORD: You know what? We are hearing from -- We are hearing from people on that, and some of those people were in Insure Oklahoma, our state plan, before that are now being told that plan is being phased out. You have to switch over. And some of those individuals are coming to us, saying, "I liked this. I had a subsidy from the state. The state was resolving this. I had a set of doctors. I don't know who my doctors are going to be now. I don't know what the plan's going to be. I don't know where I'm going to go for a hospital."

And for people in rural districts, especially, it's incredibly difficult for them, because some of the locations they have to go now are 50, 60, 70 miles away. When they used to have access to a real hospital, they're now being told, "No. I'm sorry. You have to drive to the city for that." That's not right for the people. That's my answer.

GINGRICH: Let me ask -- let me ask you a question. You're making a very interesting point, but if you think about it, I don't think it's the point you intended.

You're saying, you know, California is OK, because California has their own Web site. Now Oklahoma made the mistake of relying on the federal government.


GINGRICH: Now, wait a second. The federal -- the federal government Web site, from the time they passed the bill to today, is actually a month longer than the United States in World War II.

So from Pearl Harbor to the defeat of Italy, Germany and Japan, took us a month less than it has taken them to fail to put up a Web site. And I'm telling average Americans, if I watched a government in the age of Amazon and craigslist and eBay and all this stuff, if I watched a government that couldn't even put up a Web site. I'm not sure I want them to be in charge of my health.

SANCHEZ: I agree with my colleague: this Web site thing is just unbelievable. And a lot of my colleagues on my side are saying that. But we have a date certain where we want people to be insured. We passed this law -- I voted for this law because I want people to have insurance, and I want insurance that works.

These other policies, these individual policies, several things happen with them. You have such a high deductible. They're catastrophic. You end up paying out of your own pocket. You don't have a capped amount for the annual. Your preexisting condition, you don't even get one of those. You're a woman over 50, believe me they're not going to sell you one of those unless it's going to cost $1,500 or $1,600.

And when you get sick, guess what happens with that policy? You come walking through my front door, and you say, I got cancer, congresswoman Sanchez and now they tell me they don't want to cover me. And I have to deal with the problem. I have to push that insurance company to say what do you mean? Explain to me exactly where that wouldn't be in this policy. I have to push them; I have to push them; I have to push them.

The kinds of policies we want are ones where people understand. They are standardized because people understand what they're going to get. There's not going to be this, "I'm not going to cover you" anymore. There's not going to be this, "Oh, you're a woman, forget it. You're a preexisting condition because you could have babies. If you cannot have babies, well, you're hormonal. I mean...

LANKFORD: Apparently I do support that. Because now as man I have to have coverage that gives me maternity coverage, as well, to make that standard on it.

So the challenge of this is, is that now just pushing you into a centralized plan on it that's determined by the federal government. And now with all the Web site roll-out and all the problems, Americans are beginning to see when a central government is going to take care of all 300 million people and say, "Just come to us and we'll take care of this. We see the beginning phase of what health care will look like for decades now. Not just the Web site. It will be every decision made on health care in the days ahead will be this low, this difficult and everyone's yelling.

Help us. Don't keep pushing back. Don't keep PUSHING BACK. Don't.

CUTTER: We're back with representatives Loretta Sanchez and James Lankford.

Now, we've just had an interesting discussion on the break about whether there's anything that we can agree on, particularly you two. So I'll leave it to you. Is there anything that you two can agree on?

LANKFORD: There are some issues we were talking about during the break, obviously. If -- if the Web site is not fixed by December the 15th, we have to have some solutions in place: some extensions, something to add, because we have 5 million people that will be without insurance coming January 1. Cancer patients, diabetes, people going in for treatment that have -- currently have insurance through their employer or the individual market that are getting cancellation notice that they don't have it. If there's not a way to get insurance through the exchanges, we'd better have some sort of extension starting January the 1 and some way to be able to protect that.

SANCHEZ: I think that's true. I believe that the Web site is probably the No. 1 way for some of these people to sign up. So if we could get that right, then we could probably look at extensions.

Or we might say, "OK, well, we're going to have to do more one- on-one type of stuff." I'm sure James would cough us some money for us to hire some people to go out and to get to his people and say, "Listen. You lost your plan, so let's figure out where you have to be.

SANCHEZ: He doesn't want his people who received these -- the paperwork to be out in the cold and be without insurance, come January 1, so I'm sure that there's some ways in which he can help us.

CUTTER: I think that there absolutely needs to be a fix to this. The Web site should be fixed, and we need to figure out how to fix this very specific problem.

But I want to throw a different question onto the table. Do we think that we can work out the politics, because politics have been very difficult, between getting things through Congress, both the House and the Senate to fix this particular problem. Or do you think there will be some overreaching on Obama care?

LANKFORD: It's going to be incredibly difficult to fix. The politics of this have been bad for four years now. When the Democrats passed it entirely, and the Republicans made different proposals in committees and everything else early on, the House and the Senate and all that got overrun at the end of...

CUTTER: Now, we're going to disagree on that. LANKFORD: The acceleration was a complete -- we can agree not a single Republican voted for it in the House and in the Senate. It became incredibly partisan.

GINGRICH: Let me -- I apologize, but let me thank both of you, representatives Loretta Sanchez and James Lankford.

SANCHEZ: We're done?

GINGRICH: Go to -- go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question: "Do you think Congress can improve Obama care?" Right now, 41 of you -- percent of you say yes; 59 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.