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What's The Best Prescription for Obamacare?

Aired October 22, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight, on CROSSFIRE, we've heard all about what's gone wrong. Can we trust the team that rolled out Obamacare's Web site to fix its problems now?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not interested in Monday morning quarterbacking.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Tom Perriello, who's asking consumers to be patient, and Nick Gillespie, who calls the roll-out abysmal. Obamacare damage control: what's the best prescription? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: And I'm Van Jones on the left.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Obamacare supporter Tom Perriello and one of his opponents, Nick Gillespie.

Do you remember the fail whale? I do. Do you remember that? Back during Twitter, the early days of Twitter, you would go on the site, and this was what would come up. It's called the fail whale, and it meant that the site once again was down. I used to hate that thing. But you know what? Nobody talks about it anymore. Nobody even remembers it, because Twitter works. They fixed the site.

It's the same thing with the Obamacare Web site. Now, truly it is embarrassing to have the fail whale hanging over the White House, but it will not be there forever. And when it's gone, millions of people are going to have much-needed health care. And that's something that everybody is going to remember.

CUPP: Well, Van, the problem isn't just with the Web site. Older sick people who desperately want health insurance will log on 25 times. They will call a toll-free number and sit and wait on a hotline. They will meet with navigators in person.

But the young, healthy people required to make Obamacare work will not. They require immediacy. They demand competence, if not brilliance in their interconnectivity online. And, you know, they're not going to tolerate a series of glitches for very long. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Obamacare supporter and Virginia congressman, Tom Perriello, and one of its critics, "Reason" magazine editor-in-chief, Nick Gillespie.

Tom, let me start with you. Let me tell you why I think the Web issue isn't a glitch but a crisis. Obamacare needs millennials to make the Affordable Care Act work. And to make it work, Obama needs them to do something they have never done before, which is buy health insurance. But he's essentially handed them a tablet and a chisel to sort of make this happen.

I talked to my friend, David Bursey (ph), who is a millennial, who writes about millennials today. And here's what he had to say. If the administration wants the ACA to win millennials, I'd suggest a few trips to Menlo Park, Mountain View and Cupertino to see how they do it.

With this roll-out, Tom, has Obamacare undermined the very demographic it needs to survive.

REP. TOM PERRIELLO (D), VIRGINIA: Not really. Millennials are savvy consumers. If the product's good, people are going to hear about it. If they hear about their friends saving money or getting a plan that's got a lot more coverage than before, it's going to work. And if they don't hear about that product, it's not going to matter how quick the Web site is.

Millennials are very smart consumers. Right now what they're hearing from their friends is, through the state exchanges in particular, they're saving a lot of money, getting better coverage than they were. And that's what's going to work, is ultimately, millennials know word of mouth. That's how social media works. It was the product ultimately that's going to drive this, not the process of the first few days.

JONES: Well, I mean -- First of all, I agree with you.


JONES: I agree with him 100 percent. That was brilliant what he said. That was just...

GILLESPIE: If I can jump in, I mean, I think you're selling a pile of beans here. You know, wait, they're getting more coverage for less money. That doesn't compute. Because part of the whole plan, the economic basis of Obamacare is that you're making young people who are healthy pay more than they would otherwise, because you're mandating more benefits, and you're capping the ratio between what old, sick people get -- have to pay and young, healthy people.

There's no way that younger people are paying less for health care than they were before. And if they -- if they are, then we're really screwed, because the whole economic basis of the plan is up in smoke.

JONES: Respond to that, and then I want to tell you something that you're going to be excited about.

PERRIELLO: Well, one of the things is a lot of young people now aren't going into one job where they're fully employed. It's a rough economy out there. There are a lot of people who are independent contractors, are putting jobs together, in between jobs. And going out on the open market is tough. Going into an exchange like this means that you're sharing risk across a broad range.

It's also true that a lot of young people didn't think to get insurance, which seems like a good idea until you get sick.

GILLESPIE: But now, actually, it makes more sense not to get insurance, right, because you can wait until an accident and then sign up when you need it.

JONES: We've got to be able to get this throughout the show, but we've got some breaking news, which I think people are going to be excited about.

Chief medical correspondent, CNN'S Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is CNN's doctor -- he's America's doctor -- got the chance to talk with the one woman who everybody in America wants to talk to, Kathleen Sebelius. That is Obama's secretary of health and human services. He is joining us now from the White House with all the details. Sanjay, what did you learn?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, as no surprise, probably, Van, but they're very concerned here. She certainly talked about how concerned they've been over the last couple days and how they really wished that this had gone better. No surprise there.

There were a couple of surprises, though. She said that the president himself really wasn't made aware of any problems leading up to October 1, the launch date, at all. He really had no idea that there were problems. Really, according to Secretary Sebelius, it was only a few days into things that he started to become more aware of it -- be made more aware of this, despite the fact that insurers had really raised some significant concerns about this, despite the fact that the system had been tested just a few days before October 1 and crashed, even with just a few hundred users.

She also said something interesting. She said, you know, "We're going back now, and we're bringing in our A-Team to help address this."

And I said, "Well, A-Team, why didn't you bring in the A-Team in the first place? I mean, this is one of the biggest domestic policy initiatives for the country. Why did you wait until three weeks into this for the A-Team?"

And she said sort of said, "Yes, good point. We probably should have done that. But we're doing it now."

So concerned but also quick to remind that this is a larger mission. She kept repeating that. And also quick to remind that you've got six months, till the end of March, basically to sign up for this. So this has been a hiccup, but she thinks things are going to get better.

CUPP: Well, and Sanjay, what about the calls for her resignation? You've heard a lot of those from Republicans. Did you ask her about that?

GUPTA: I did, at least three times, S.E. And she didn't answer it clearly. She said that that is not something that she is considering right now. I asked her if the president, if she had gone to the president to say that she should resign over this. And again, she was very circumspect about this.

But what you notice, with these types of questions, the answers always come back to, "But look, here's the mission. Let me tell you about the patients that are now getting health care who didn't have it before. And despite the fact that there's been a lot of these problems, it's going to continue to get better, and we're doing the right thing." That's what you keep hearing over and over again.

I also brought up something I just heard you guys talking about, this idea that, look, have you lost some confidence with people? Are people just less confident about this? And if so, you know, are they going to sign up? Or are they just going to take the penalty? And how much of an impact does that make on the whole system?

And again, she says she believes that people are going to sign up. She talked about her own son, 29-year-old son who's going to sign up. So she still is painting a very optimistic picture in bringing in the cavalry, so to speak, as well.

CUPP: Wow.

JONES: Well, listen, first of all, we just want to thank you very much. This is obviously a very big deal; it's an exclusive interview. Our viewers can watch the entire interview with Secretary Sebelius tonight, 8 Eastern on CNN's "ANDERSON COOPER 360." Thank you so much, Doctor.


JONES: Now let's get back to our discussion here.

CUPP: Yes, Tom, I want to go back to this young person issue. Because the whole thing hinges on this, right?

So this generation of millennials that are required to get Obamacare working so that you can support the older sick people who need Obamacare, this generation trusts Google's Sergey Brin and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to solve problems for you. They don't trust the Department of Health and Human Services or the IRS.

Why should millennials be patient, when I think to Van's point -- and I think Van would agree -- that they can probably offer up solutions that are just as innovative, if not more innovative, than what the government's offering up?

PERRIELLO: Well, first of all, one of the major components of the bill was to have 50 states compete for good ideas on this. Most of the Republican governors have chosen not to do that. But you're seeing a lot of Democratic governors in different states can create exchanges out there; hundreds of thousands of people signing up, including many young people. That's part of what we're supposed to do with this that federalists should support, is using states as laboratories.

CUPP: Yes.

PERRIELLO: You also see, ultimately, that young people again, if -- whether it's today or a week from now or a month from now, if there's a good plan that they're excited to sign up for, they're going to go on and sign up for it.

That doesn't mean that they have to be patient and sit on the phone for three months. It means when the good product is there, they're going to grab it. And I think a lot of young people have learned a lot more about why having health insurance is a good thing, why preventive care is a useful thing. It's not all...

CUPP: I don't know. Decades of tradition of young people not getting health insurance.

GILLESPIE: No, but it's also -- let's not move off the factor that -- you know, you talk about Kathleen Sebelius. She should have tendered her resignation, whether or not the president took it. But this is the biggest G-D deal that a liberal administration has put forward since Harry Truman. This is what we keep hearing all the time. She screwed it up, and if the president didn't know until a couple of days into this debacle how bad it was, what is he, like Hitler in the bunker or something like that? What's going on, you know?

CUPP: Well, maybe that's plausible deniability.

GILLESPIE: Like this is -- that is bizarre, and it is massively objectionable. And what's...

JONES: Almost as objectionable as the Hitler reference. But...

GILLESPIE: OK. Let me rephrase that. He's like Nixon in his last days. OK, is that better?

But if he's not getting a flow of information, it means that the leadership problem here starts at the top, and it goes all the way through people like Sebelius. They missed half of their statutory deadlines.

JONES: Here's the thing...

CUPP: And it's your legislation.

JONES: Fine, fine. We can jump up and down about this. But you know what is interesting to me? I mean, this is -- let me get to my question. I want to ask you a question. I mean, look, obviously, this is bad. The president says it's bad. Everybody in America...

GILLESPIE: He offered no insights on what was going to happen next.

JONES: He gave a whole press conference about that yesterday. But here's what's interesting to me.

You say it's abysmal. You have people screaming and yelling. And this thing, Obamacare, is more popular now than it was two weeks ago. More popular than it was before -- let's look at some of these numbers. The numbers are unbelievable. This thing is moving up in popularity, despite the shutdown, despite Ted Cruz, despite the glitchy rollout.

How do you explain the fact that, despite these mistakes, this program is more popular, then, than it was before?

GILLESPIE: And the important thing is that it's still not particularly popular, but it is climbing. And I think...

JONES: It's not...


GILLESPIE: It's not despite Ted Cruz or despite the shutdown; it's because of that. And I think what the Republicans -- I'm not a Republican. I'm not a partisan, you know, political partisan of any stripe. But what happened by conflating issues about government funding and the debt limit with Obamacare, I think the Republicans really crossed wires. And suddenly, something was revealed about the Republicans, which was pretty odious, which is that, you know, suddenly they're talking about our government shutdown debt limit. Let's, you know, pass the Keystone Pipeline, repeal Obamacare, et cetera.

There are responsible -- the most responsible action over the roll-out of Obamacare in recent -- in the recent weeks was the state of Oregon, which is doing its own health-care exchange. They tested their program, and they said, "Hey, you know what? It's not working. So they're not going online until it's ready. That's the responsible...

CUPP: Well, you know, it's not just the Web site that has problems. I think the whole law needs to be fixed. We'll talk about that next. You'll be surprised who agrees with me.


CUPP: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Tom Perriello and Nick Gillespie.

I was looking at the official White House schedule, and I didn't see "damage control" listed anywhere, but that's all we've been seeing today. The administration's wheeled out public officials like Kathleen Sebelius and resurrected former officials like Jeff Zients to clean up the Obamacare mess and save face.

Tom, the Affordable Care Act is supposed to be affordable. But premiums in your state, for example, Virginia, are up 250 percent for a 27-year-old an 178 percent for a family of four, according to the Heritage Foundation. What happens when Obamacare isn't, in fact, affordable?

PERRIELLO: Well, I think the credibility of anything from the Heritage Foundation is not at its peak right now for the last few weeks. We're seeing premiums go down dramatically in states. We're seeing people enroll. We're seeing stories come in. And that's the thing. I think when people talk about Obamacare...

CUPP: So premiums aren't going up in states?

PERRIELLO: ... they're forgetting just how bad the status quo was before, how many people couldn't get insurance. We're seeing premiums skyrocket. It's not like premiums weren't going up before Obamacare happened.

People who were in the working poor and not being -- not qualifying in Medicaid. So you see a whole set of options here that people, for people who were hitting caps. We know the kind of tragic cases of families that were going bankrupt. A business -- a small business owner in Maryland who's saving $5,000 per employee now because of the Obamacare...

CUPP: But are you denying that premiums are going up in many cases?

PERRIELLO: There are ones going up; they are ones going down in places where it's...

CUPP: But they're not supposed to go up ever.

GILLESPIE: Are you -- are you saying that premiums are going up or what people are paying after the subsidy?

JONES: The problem with the Heritage numbers is the Heritage numbers don't include the subsidies.

GILLESPIE: No, but what I -- what I would argue is that the problem with this whole system...

JONES: Well, nobody's going to pay these.

GILLESPIE: The problem with -- well, no, the taxpayer will. You know, so...


JONES: That's what people do anyway when people go to the emergency room.

GILLESPIE: No, no, no. It's not the same.

JONES: It's a much more efficient and effective way.

GILLESPIE: Medical -- medical -- you don't have -- emergency rooms is 2 percent of all health care spending. It's not a huge amount. That's a big red herring in this.

The important thing is to say, the problem with health care that's always been, it's true: the status quo is terrible. The status quo is terrible, because the health-care industry is one of the most regulated, and it's regulated at the behest of major insurers. There's a reason why you can't sell life -- health-insurance policies across state lines. It's not because we wouldn't benefit from it. It's because big insurers don't want it.

JONES: So then would libertarians work with liberals to do things like, for instance, right now, these big insurance companies are exempt from anti-trust laws. So they actually have a big loophole...


JONES: Would you work with us to make sure that they are...


GILLESPIE: I -- you know...

JONES: Go ahead and do that?

GILLESPIE: No, no, no.

JONES: Go ahead.


What I'm going to say is that, if we had an actual free market in health care, you wouldn't need anti-trust laws, because you wouldn't have, in every state, one, two or three insurers cover all of the market because they have cartels carved out at, you know, with help from state legislatures and federal regulators. We're trying to get rid of that.

JONES: The regulations came because of the abuses, not the other way around.

GILLESPIE: No, then why did they -- why did the abuses keep getting worse?

JONES: Well, I'll tell you. There is one place in America...

GILLESPIE: Would you -- wait -- wait...

JONES: I've got to do something right now. I want to get your response and yours, as well. There's actually one place where things are getting better, and that place is Kentucky. We've got some great sound from the governor of Kentucky.


GOV. STEVE RESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: We are signing up people at roughly 1,000 a day. It's a great rate and a great success so far. It was also the best economic decision. Because I had outside experts telling me that it's going to create about 17,000 new jobs over the next eight years and infuse about $15 billion into our economy. So it's a win/win for us.


CUPP: But the governor -- the governor there didn't say what kind of people are signing up. He didn't say if they were young people or sick, unhealthy people.

JONES: Fair enough. But I think what -- the question I want to hear answered, where people are working together, this thing is beginning to work. That is the Democratic governor in Kentucky. You've got a Republican governor in Ohio who's beginning to sing the praises. Jan Brewer says if you repeal Obamacare, you're going to bankrupt her state.

So in other words, while we're doing the abstract, ideological argument in Washington, D.C., out in the states, Republicans and Democrats are making this thing work. Why are you opposed to that?

GILLESPIE: Right. You're -- you're going to go on the record as saying, "Where Jan Brewer leads, I will follow"?

JONES: On this point I will.

GILLESPIE: What happened about a decade ago, Arizona expanded Medicaid voluntarily, in the way that Obamacare is calling for all across the country. That's what's bankrupting Arizona. That's why they want a bailout from national taxpayers...

JONES: You'd rather poor people not be able to see doctors?


JONES: What do you think about that?

GILLESPIE: The last time I checked, poor people can eat at McDonald's, and it's a pretty good meal. The reason they can't get health care at good prices is because it is so heavily regulated, and like all heavily-regulated industries -- like Wall Street, like railroads, like TV -- it's always done at the behest of the big players.

CUPP: Even -- Tom, even with those subsidies, just to return back to sort of the mechanics of this. Even with those subsidies, in some cases, they're not going to completely fill the gap. And in some cases, the health-care premium will still be more than paying the fine. And isn't that the problem? Mechanically, you guys are hoping for something that may or may not happen.

PERRIELLO: If you're saying that you want to create a system where you can't find a single individual whose premiums go up, then obviously that's not where it works.

But to Van's point, where people are actually trying to solve the problem and make it easier for working families to afford health care, and young people to afford health care, then it is working. And if we had 50 governors right now of both parties, frankly, if it were more than two parties, who were actually putting their best ideas on the table, you would actually be competing over who's saving families more. Instead, you see the same approach from Republicans, which is "We have no ideas about -- except what to be against." And if they could be competing right now...

GILLESPIE: What if -- what if the best idea is to say no? I mean, you were talking about federalism before. Part of federalism is the right, as I said, of saying, "No, we're not going to do that. We're going to set a -- we're going to set minimum requirements for insurance at a different level than you would."

You know, the California versus Texas, I mean, there we have national -- you know, natural experiments. They offer different levels of services, different level of taxes, different levels of regulation. Let people choose. Don't pretend that Obamacare, which forces a top- down mandate all across the board, everywhere in the country, is actually...


GILLESPIE: ... up the ying-yang. That's federalism?

PERRIELLO: You know, we don't want to race to the bottom on certain things.

GILLESPIE: It's not a race to the bottom.

PERRIELLO: But there is a lot of room for competition and flexibility, a lot of room for Republican governors to be taking a creative approach on this. A few of them are. Partly -- and the irony here is a lot of the most rural states, which are quite red, are the ones that stand to benefit from many of these things, including the Medicaid expansion but also the exchanges. And we're not seeing that.

GILLESPIE: By the way...

PERRIELLO: That defaults to a federal solution.

GILLESPIE: ... let's not -- let's not pretend that the Medicaid expansion is a good thing. Medicaid is one of the most inefficient and awful programs. If you know anybody who has been on Medicaid, you would do everything you could to change that program.

At its best, and this is the study coming out of Oregon that everybody points to. After two years they found there was no clear health outcome benefit to being on Medicaid.

JONES: Let's just move on to one more talking point that we hear a lot. And I actually would be very interested in hearing your view on this.

We've heard over and over again that, because of this, you're going to have this part-timization of everybody. And luckily, the numbers actually came out today. And I want to read you these numbers.

It turns out that over the past 12 months we've created 1.6 million full-time jobs. We've actually lost 287,000 part-time jobs. What does that do to the argument that Obamacare is this -- is this wrecking ball for full-time?

GILLESPIE: I don't think that the issue is as much whether or not it's -- you know, it's destroying all full-time jobs are now become part-time jobs. I think you have to look at it more what did spending five years fighting over -- you know, during a bad economy; everybody agrees it was a bad economy. And everybody, I think, probably agrees, you know, on many of the causes of that.

You inject something like Obamacare as well as Dodd-Frank and a bunch of other major regulatory transformative schemes on things. And what you did there was slow down any possible recovery, because no employer is going to be like, "I don't know what I'm spending on health care next year, so I'm going to hire a bunch of people."

CUPP: Not to mention the bureaucracy that creates waste, corruption, fraud, privacy issues.

JONES: At the insurance companies? The insurance companies?

CUPP: No. This is opening the door for more opportunities for all of those scary things that have a lot of people lacking faith in government right now.

JONES: Good enough. We're going to talk about all this when we get back. I want you guys to stay here. Next we're going to "Ceasefire" to see if there's anything that the two of you can agree upon. You never know: It sometimes happens.

And we also want you at home to get involved, to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Here's the question: "Should Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resign over the Obamacare Web site problem?" Tweet yes or no using #Crossfire. We will have the results after our break.


JONES: We are back with Tom Perriello and Nick Gillespie. Now, let's call a "Ceasefire" and see if there's anything you two can agree on. This is going to be very interesting. You go first.

PERRIELLO: I think we probably agree to trust the consumer. And ultimately, if the health-care product is something that consumers, particularly young people, want to buy, they know how to go on a Web site, compare different plans. And if they like what they see, they're going to buy it. And ultimately, if it that product's no good, they're not going to buy it.

GILLESPIE: I have a lot of faith in young people and their ability to route -- especially young, Web-savvy people -- to route around B.S. in their lives. So yes, I agree completely.

CUPP: Yay, we found something. The system hinges on young people, and we've got to hope that they like the product. OK.

Thanks to Tom Perriello and Nick Gillespie. Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question: "Should Secretary Sebelius resign over the Obamacare Web site problems?" Right now, 42 percent of you say yes, 58 percent say no.

And just a reminder: Secretary Sebelius will answer that question herself during an exclusive interview tonight at 8 Eastern here on CNN.

JONES: The debate is going to continue online at, as well as on Facebook and on Twitter. No more fail whales there.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: And from the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.