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State of the Union
Interview With Kathleen Sebelius; Interview with Senator Barrasso, Representatives Price, Johnson
Aired August 16, 2009 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION.
KING (voice-over): As the health care debate turns testy, the president mounts a cross-country fight to regain his footing.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Spread the facts. Fight against the fear. This is not about politics, this is about helping the American people.
KING: His most important domestic policy initiative in danger of failing. We go inside the administration's summer strategy with Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
We'll also break down your health care flash points line by line, the role of government to talk of so-called death panels with two doctors and a nurse who now serve in the Congress.
Then, our "American Dispatch," from South Dakota's Cheyenne River Reservation, a land so rich in history and fertile soil, yet home to stunning poverty and despair.
This is the STATE OF THE UNION report for Sunday, August 16th.
KING: We begin this Sunday with someone who has firsthand experience of the contentious turn in the national debate over health care reform. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has heard the heckling and the boos, and more importantly, the detailed questions Americans are asking at town halls organized by members of Congress home for their August break. Secretary Sebelius joins us from Michigan this morning to answer the administration's critics and the questions you might be asking around the kitchen table.
Thank you for joining with us, Madam Secretary. I would like to begin with something the president said at a town hall out in Colorado yesterday. Among the most contentious points of the debate and something the president once described as critical, is the so-called government or public option, to compete with private insurance companies. But if you listened to the president yesterday, he seemed to think, maybe it's not so important.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it. One aspect of it. And by the way, it's both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, some, Madam Secretary, take that as a simple statement of fact, because you don't have the votes right now in the Senate for the public option. But some in this town in Washington, especially House Democrats, more liberal Democrats who have said that is critical. That they will not support health care without a public option. They take that as a message from the president that the votes aren't there, it's time to come up with a plan B.
SEBELIUS: Well, I think, John, that the president is absolutely right. This piece of the puzzle has had enormous focus and the president continues to believe that it's good to have consumer choice, let people choose an option in the new marketplace. And it's good to have competition for the private insurers who will inherit a lot of new customers and without competition, costs could skyrocket.
In a monopoly system, it's not a great way to hold down costs. So he continues to be very supportive of some options for consumers. What we don't know is exactly what the Senate Finance Committee is likely to come up. They've been more focused on a co-op, not-for- profit co- op as a competitor as opposed to a straight government-run program.
And I think what's important is choice and competition. And I'm convinced at the end of the day, the plan will have both of those. But that is not the essential element.
KING: So is the president trying to say to -- you know that the votes in the House and you know the support among liberals and they're angry. They think they're being sold out in the Senate. Is the president trying to say, I'm sorry, the votes aren't there, be prepared to embrace a co-op instead of a more robust public option?
SEBELIUS: Well, the way that the process works, the Senate will have a version, the HELP Committee has already come out in the Senate with a version that has a very robust public option. It's the same version that's in the House-passed bills. What we don't know is the final committee structure.
And I think the president is just continuing to say, let's not have this be the only focus of the conversation. Coverage for all Americans, lowering the crushing cost for everyone, making sure that we have new rules for insurance companies, that they can't dump people out of the marketplace if you get sick, that they can't drop your coverage based on a pre-existing condition, that you can't be priced out because you're a woman instead of a man, and gender discrimination won't be allowed to continue anymore.
Those are really essential parts of the program, along with choice and competition, which I think we'll have at the end of the day.
KING: So I want to get some of the president's travels this week, so I've moved over to our magic wall here in Washington. But let me just quite simply -- so the public option is not a deal-breaker from the president's standpoint? SEBELIUS: Well, I think there will be a competitor to private insurers. That's really the essential part, is you don't turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices, we need some competition.
KING: You have been at some of these town halls, you know the volume has gone up. I want to walk through where the president has traveled in this past week as he makes his case. One town hall the president was at was up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
What makes New Hampshire so interesting is that 44 percent of its voters are registered as independents. And as you know, independent support for the president, specifically on health care, has dropped a bit in recent weeks. That was one stop up in New Hampshire.
He also then went from the East way out here up into Montana in the West. The president having another town hall out here. More casual, shirt sleeves out in the West. Interesting, in Montana, the president lost to John McCain, but just narrowly there.
And as you know, Madam Secretary, when you get further West, you have increased skepticism about Washington and about government spending and the role of government in health care.
And the president wrapped up his week with a town hall in Colorado out here in the conservative part of the state. This was a red state he turned blue in the election, but out in conservative Grand Junction, interesting in Colorado, 17 percent of the state's residents lack health insurance, 9 percent are on Medicare, and 8.5 percent on Medicaid.
As we watch the president travel, politically, many of his own allies, even some of his allies say, they are more and more skeptical he can get this bill this year. Do you share that skepticism?
SEBELIUS: I don't. I think that the debate across the country is -- reflects the fact that Americans care deeply about health care. It's the most personal issue to most folks. Everyone has a loved one, a family member, a child, a parent. They've gone through the system.
And I think there's a general recognition that the system we have in America is fundamentally broken. We spend more than any country on Earth. Our health results look like we're a developing nation. So we have to reform the system.
And I think what's going on right now is complicated, because we need to put the specific language together. But by and large, I find it encouraging that Congress is at the table working, that Congress is now traveling out to hear from their constituents.
We knew we were in trouble in Pennsylvania, John, when the woman who runs the Constitutional Law Center got up to welcome the crowd and she was booed. So, clearly, some of this anger is not directed to health reform. It's people who are, I think, uncertain and afraid about the future and, unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation intentionally circulated, trying to scare people, trying to scare...
KING: I want to get...
SEBELIUS: ... seniors and veterans.
KING: I'm sorry to interrupt. I want to get to some of those specific points and some of what you call misinformation coming up at the town hall.
But I want to ask you a question first as Governor Sebelius. You are Secretary Sebelius now, but not long ago you were the governor of this state right out here of Kansas. As you know, Democrats were saying, let's wait another month, let's see if they can come up with a bipartisan bill in the Senate, and if they can't by September 15th, then the Democrats are going to have to use their party line muscle and put a bill through the House and put a bill through the Senate.
Could Governor Sebelius sell that back home here in the red state of Kansas? Should we do something so big, so personal, and so expensive along a party line vote?
SEBELIUS: Well, I think the president is still hopeful and I am too, that we will have a bipartisan bill. I thought it was interesting that we had a Republican congressman from Louisiana yesterday come out and endorse the bill, saying that he intends to vote for health reform.
I think we'll have senators who still are working with the Finance Committee structure and they're likely to be part of the final solution. And there's no question, we have lots of Republican ideas, even in the House version, which at the committee level, did not have Republican votes. We have lots of Republican ideas.
So it's unfortunate that the Republican leadership in the House early on said, we don't want to participate in this, we're going to push away from the table. And certainly, that has been the push from the Senate Republican leadership.
But I hope at the end of the day that Republicans and Democrats join together. This is about America. This is about an American solution to our health system, which is an enormous part of our economy, but also make sure that we're going to be healthy and prosperous into the future.
We have to get this right to fix the economy. We have to make sure that all Americans have access to great health care, or we won't have a competitive country moving forward.
KING: Let's go through some of the specifics, some of the things that have come up at these town halls. And this e-mail I'm holding up here has been distributed by conservative critics of the president's plan to millions, millions of Americans across the country and we are finding people using it and reading off it at town halls. And I want to go through some of the line-by-line criticisms. One of the criticisms is this, they say, in the House legislation, on page 30 section 123 of the House bill, it says, there will be a government committee that decides what treatments and benefits you get. That true?
SEBELIUS: Well, I think that what Congress has done is to say that the bills themselves will not try to enumerate what the benefit package looks like. That will be left as it is in state employee health plans and in veterans' health plans and others to a group to say, here is the kind of basic benefit package.
And then ask for the companies to essentially put together the best possible package for Americans, knowing that that's a dynamic that changes from year to year. Some drugs are available now that weren't available five years ago.
We want to make sure that it's the best plan, the best options, and that the plans actually look different based on what companies decide to include as benefit packages.
KING: But how much -- let me jump in...
SEBELIUS: Congress won't...
KING: How much power would the government have in this dramatically changed marketplace? Because here specifically on that point, I read you the one-line bullet point from the e-mail. Here's specifically what that page of the bill says.
"There is established a private-public entity advisory committee that will be a panel of medical and other experts to be known as the Health Benefits Advisory Committee to recommend covered benefits and essential enhanced and premium plans."
KING: So the government would have a voice in what it says should be in those plans?
SEBELIUS: Absolutely, John. And that goes on every day. It's how the Medicare benefits get decided. It's how the Medicaid benefits get decided. It's really what happens in any private insurance company when they put together a benefit package along with an employer.
So it's exactly -- I was an insurance commissioner for eight years. It's exactly how health benefit plans are decided and defined around a broad set of parameters, saying, we want preventative care, we want to make sure we have primary care, we want to cover catastrophic care, we want the basic prescription benefits to be available to all Americans. And then the specifics are decided on an ongoing dynamic.
You don't want legislators trying to write specific statutes saying, this is in, this is out, knowing that it changes from year to year, day to day. We want a dynamic benefit system that benefits the American public.
KING: More of our conversation with Secretary Sebelius just ahead. More on the health care debate, also her thoughts on whether as parents get ready to send their children back to school, the country is ready for the return of the H1N1 virus. Stay with us.
KING: We're back talking with the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius. Madam Secretary, before the break, you talked about the scare tactics. You don't like some of these issues being raised or criticisms being raised that you think are misleading or out of bounds. The president himself used the term, and I'm holding up "The Bozeman Daily Record" here -- the "Roswell Daily Record" I'm sorry -- he said on the death panel debate, simply dishonest things have been said in that debate, simply dishonest. I want to ask you, if we're going to have that standard and try to hold everybody to it in the health care debate, that what you say must be factual, how about this statement the president said earlier this week at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Under the reform we're proposing, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, the president uses those exact same words in this essay published today in the New York Times. He can't say that, though, with great certainty, can he, that in a changed marketplace, my employer or any employer that provides me benefits might say it's cost-effective in this new marketplace to change things, maybe take the public option, maybe go look for another plan. And if there are changes, I might not get to keep my doctor, I might not get to keep my plan. Isn't that factually correct?
SEBELIUS: Well, what I think, John, what the president is saying that he wants to start with the employer-based insurance coverage that we've had in this country since the 1930s...
KING: Forgive me, forgive me, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but that's not what he's saying. He says if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care. That's very specific, what he's saying, and many have said that that's not exactly true.
SEBELIUS: (inaudible). Well, clearly, he can't prevent employers from dropping coverage, and it happens all the time, although health reform will stabilize that marketplace. That's what I was trying to get at. It provides tax incentives for small employers who now are dropping coverage year in and year out to get into the market. It provides help for lower-income employees to take their employer-based health coverage.
So I think at the end of the day, what he's saying is, you're going to have a stronger employer-based system, encourage more employers to stay where they are and encourage more doctors to actually participate in the system.
Clearly, he can't mandate that a doctor not retire or that an employer not switch a plan that might have a different network of doctors. But strengthening the existing platform that serves 180 million Americans well, making sure that employers have incentives to stay in and really putting up some firewalls so that we don't have employers dumping coverage, which we have day in and day out today. 12,000 Americans a day are losing their health coverage. And what the president is talking about doing with health reform is actually stabilizing that marketplace, not dismantling the marketplace.
KING: Another thing some critics of the administration have raised is what they say is a deal, an ambiguous deal, because they don't know the details with the pharmaceutical industry, that they have negotiated with the White House, the industry has, and that the White House has sort of told Congress what's in and out when you're pressuring the drug companies. So then those very same drug companies are spending $150 million or so on television ads supporting the president's plan. Some find this unseemly, because they don't know the details of what the White House has negotiated with the drug companies. Should those details be made public?
SEBELIUS: Well, I think there was a very public announcement, which I thought was incredibly good news, that occurred a couple of months ago, when the drug company manufacturers came to the table, met with the president, and after some negotiation with the Finance Committee and came out and said they felt that they could actually lower drug costs for primarily seniors in this country by $80 billion. Lowering costs. That's very good news. And seniors right now who have Medicare coverage that hit the so-called doughnut hole -- about four million Americans reach a point where they have no coverage any longer at all. They're paying 100 percent of their drug costs. They are using a lot of prescription drugs and really in a difficult state. Those costs would be cut in half. It would help stabilize Medicare. It will help lower drug costs for everyone, and that's incredibly good news.
And that was publicly announced, John. And I was in the meeting. I went to the pharmaceutical board following that, and had a lively discussion about other ways that we can continue to work with the pharmaceutical industry to make sure that Americans have access to lower cost, high-quality pharmaceuticals, and they're at the table. I think that's wonderful.
Usually, what happens in the Beltway is people fight to the death about issues like this. Certainly, the pharmaceutical industry was on the other side in the early '90s. I think it's great news for the American public that they're at the table and they realize they've got to help provide lower-cost prescription drugs for all Americans, and that will be part of this health reform package. KING: Madam Secretary, we're almost out of time, but I want to read you a line from the current issue of Time magazine as parents get ready to send their children back to school, and I want you to help us understand government preparations levels and when a vaccine will be ready and the effectiveness. Here's the line about the H1N1 virus. "One pessimistic model from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that 40 percent of the nation could be struck, roughly 140 million people, with perhaps a six-figure death toll if a vaccination campaign is not successfully implemented."
Is that right?
SEBELIUS: Well, John, we're playing out a whole variety of scenarios. We're preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. We're still optimistic that we'll have a vaccine available about the 15th of October, but the regimen will take about five weeks. First shot, three weeks delay, second shot, and then about two weeks for full immunity. So we really need to work between now and Thanksgiving with lots of social mitigation, keeping kids home from school if they're sick.
I would urge every family to have a backup child care plan. If your child comes down with the flu, you need to keep him or her home. Who's going to take care of that child? Who's going to be at home? If a parent gets sick, what is the plan? Because we know the disease spreads quickly, and we will not have fully immunized even priority populations until about Thanksgiving.
But certainly, preparation is under way. We're looking at schools as great partners for possible vaccine programs beginning in the fall, to get kids immunized as quickly as possible, because this is a children's flu.
KING: Many challenges facing the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius. Madam Secretary, thanks for your time today.
SEBELIUS: Thanks, John.
KING: Thank you. And next, more of your questions about health care. We'll separate fact from fiction with three members of Congress who also happen to be medical professionals. Stay with us.
KING: I'm John King, and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning. An American man in prison in Myanmar is now safely out of that country. 53-year-old John Yettaw arrived in Thailand today with Senator Jim Webb, who helped to secure his release. Yettaw was sentenced to seven years hard labor after he went uninvited to the home of pro-democracy leader Aung Suu Kyi. Senator Webb is expressing hope for better relations now between the United States and Myanmar.
Nearly 7,000 firefighters are battling about a dozen wildfires burning across California. Thousands of residents have been told to evacuate. The largest of the fires is burning in the Santa Cruz mountains, just south of San Francisco. High winds and rough terrain are hampering efforts to control those fires. That and more ahead on "State of the Union."
United States Capitol there. Look at that beautiful blue sky on a Sunday morning here in Washington, in August. Nobody working in that building today, nobody elected, anyway. They are home for the August recess. The crackling, often contentious health care debate at town halls this past week was proof to us that we needed to do a better job honing in on the specifics and working carefully to separate myth from reality.
Our next guests are uniquely qualified to help us understand the fine print. Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, Republican Congressman Tom Price of Georgia, and Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas. Senator Barrasso and Congressmen Price are also medical doctors, while Congresswoman Bernice Johnson is a registered nurse.
Thank you all for being with us today. Congresswoman, I want to start with you, because Secretary Sebelius at the top of the program made crystal clear that the public option that the president early on had said was a critical element and that your colleagues, especially, in the House Democratic Caucus have said is a central, critical component of health care reform, the White House now says too much attention on the public option, clearly signaling it is ready to sign a health care bill without one. Could you support one? Could other House Democrats support a health care reform measure that does not have a robust public option?
JOHNSON: It would be very, very difficult, because without the public option, we'll have the same number of people uninsured. If the insurance companies wanted to insure these people now, they'd be insured. The only way that we can be sure that very low-income people and persons who work for companies that don't offer insurance can have access to it is through an option that would give the private insurance companies a little competition. The private insurance companies have been in charge so long that I think they feel that nobody else ought to be able to do it.
KING: You say, very difficult. I want to bring in our Republican -- your Republican colleagues here. When you say very difficult, would House Democrats -- would you go to your speaker and say, Madam Speaker, go down to the White House and say, no?
JOHNSON: We've already done that. We've already expressed that to the speaker.
KING: Congressman Price, you jump in on this point before I want to get up and go to the wall, because I want to mostly have a town hall discussion here today and raise some of the questions that are coming up around the country.
But if the president is signaling a public option is not essential, then would House Republicans maybe say it's time -- maybe you'll go down to the White House and say, Mr. President, here is what we can do.
PRICE: Well, we would love to go down to the White House and work with the president. And the fact of the matter is that this notion that there's just two options, the government option or a private insurance option, is just simply false. There's the third way, which is the right way, we believe, which is a patient way, a patient-centered way, to put patients in charge. And there is a way to get folks insured without having the government option. If you have the government option, then what that does is crowd out all sorts of folks from private personal insurance to the government-run program.
There are all sorts of studies that demonstrate that. The Congressional Budget Office demonstrates that, the Heritage Foundation. Tens of millions of individuals would be moved from their personal, private insurance to the government-run program. We simply don't think that's acceptable.
KING: I want to have a town hall here at "State of the Union," much like you're having at home. And Senator Barrasso, Dr. Barrasso, I want to go to you first and I want to go out to the state of Iowa. And I want to play for you a question that came up at a town hall for your Republican colleague, Chuck Grassley and I want your thoughts here. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): I'm a second-year medical student. If plans like these are going to drastically increase the number of people on plans who result in paying the low Medicare reimbursement that we get here in Iowa, how are you going to keep future doctors like me and thousands of doctors across the state in Iowa? (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Senator Barrasso, the question essentially being in the context of, if you have a public option, will the reimbursement rates be low, like in Medicare and Medicaid, in that student's opinion, so the doctors, as we've seen in many states, simply opt out?
BARRASSO: I had that same question at a town hall meeting in Wirling (ph), Wyoming in Washakie County just this past Friday. Physicians are very concerned, because in the past, Medicare and government payers -- government is the biggest deadbeat. They don't pay enough, the fair price. They don't even pay the ambulances enough to get the patient to the hospital, so then there's this dramatic cost shifting, John, that happens in America. But at a town hall, what I heard from people in Wyoming is, they are afraid that with this new plan that the president is proposing, is they're going to end up paying more and ending up with worse care overall.
BARRASSO: They're very concerned about all of this Washington spending, the major debt that we're facing, and they're really focused on the economy right now and saying that really ought to take priority over health care.
KING: Let's go to another question. And, Congressman Price, I want you to take this one. I'm going to zoom into the state of Maryland. Senator Ben Cardin had a town hall up here in the Hagerstown area, and you notice he's a Democrat, but this is a conservative part of the state up here. Here was the question put to Senator Cardin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): Say my dad and my grandfather both came down with cancer. Would my dad get priority care because he's younger and can contribute longer to society?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Interesting question from the young man there. Would the government, Congressman Price, be involved in those decisions?
PRICE: Oh, it's very concerning, John. I'm up here in northern Michigan visiting my mom, who had a recent bout of cancer. And I believe that the surgery that she was allowed to have and the chemotherapy that she was allowed to have in the House bill would not be available to her.
And that's why you see seniors across this land so very concerned, because the proposal in the House is to decrease, is to cut $500 billion from Medicare. They know that that means a decrease in the quality of care and the level of care that they're able to receive, and it's not acceptable to them, and it's not acceptable to us, especially when there are positive ways to solve this problem without throwing everything out and making it so that the government's running the show.
KING: I want to let the Democrat in on that conversation. Congressman, you heard your Republican colleague there. And this does come up when you travel the country.
I was in your state recently, and it came up there, that if you're trying to squeeze all these savings from Medicaid and Medicare, no one disputes that there's not a lot of money to be saved in getting rid of waste, fraud and abuse in a bureaucracy, but doctors and patients do have a concern that if you squeeze too much, you ultimately do affect care. How do you guarantee, Congresswoman, that doesn't happen?
JOHNSON: First of all, we'll have another part of it -- part of the health care getting attention, primary care. With primary care, much of the hospital and the emergency room-type of care will be eliminated, because we really won't need it.
When people learn how to be self-sufficient and take care of themselves through our community health centers, there won't be as many emergency room patients, there won't be as many people going to the hospital, because they won't need it.
And it's not that care would be rationed. It's just that when they learn how to take care of themselves -- there's a big difference between a diabetic ending up in the emergency room in a diabetic coma versus one who has gone to a community health center and gotten instructions as to how to keep from having that blood sugar go up. There's a vast difference in what that would cost.
KING: All right, let's move on to another -- let's move on to New Jersey here. Another question that came up at a town hall -- and I want to stay with you, Congresswoman, first, because I think a Democrat should answer this question first. This one, again, in my travels to 30 states now in the past seven months, this one comes up quite frequently, especially because of anxiety that has nothing to do with the health care debate, but anxiety about the bailout money, government spending, and the big deficits. Here's another question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): (inaudible) rushed into the stimulus, we rushed into cap-and-trade. Nobody's read any of these things (inaudible)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: "Why so fast?" was the gentleman's question, Congresswoman, and especially when you see support going down and the bipartisan negotiations in the Senate hung up. Why so fast? Is it critical to Democrats to do this, this year, or is it more critical to get Republicans, like your colleagues right here with you on this program, on board so it's easier to sell to all Americans?
JOHNSON: I don't know if we can get them on board.
This is not "so fast." This has been worked on now 30 years, and we've not been able to get it passed. And the major reason is because many of the Republicans are so subservient to the insurance companies that -- and the insurance companies are the ones that will have to give some, because right now, they're in charge of medical care.
You know, it's interesting that we have Dr. Price, and I think you said the other gentleman was a doctor. The insurance companies are telling him how to practice medicine. Maybe that's why they left; I don't know. But we need a situation where doctors can be in charge of the care. I think it will be more efficient, patients can leave the hospital sooner when they get the proper care rather than waiting around four or five days to see whether or not an insurance plan is going to pay for a condition. There are many reasons why we should move ahead.
And to say something about the bailouts, we have made investments in these various large institutions that need the care and need the help in order to stay in business. We will get money back when they start to make money.
It's so interesting how this dialogue goes, because the misinformation that's being spread by most of the real loud people that they've recruited to go to these meetings is really just misinformation. They are not getting the correct information.
KING: I think this happens every day in medical offices all across the country. The nurse is telling the doctors, "You don't quite have this right." Gentlemen, I know you want to jump in. Let me work in a quick break here. We'll be right back, and we'll get the Republican colleagues involved. A lot more to dissect with Senator Barrasso, Congressman Price, and Congresswoman Bernice Johnson. Please stay with us.
And if you'd like to know more about the health care debate and how reforms could affect you and your family, go to the special "Health Care in America" Web site on cnn.com/healthcare. You can read the legislation in its entirety. Also, at our Facebook site right now, there is a fascinating debate on this very issue going forward. Take part if you'd like. Stay with us.
KING: We're back with three medical professionals who now serve in the Congress, Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, Republican Congressman Tom Price of Georgia, and Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas.
Let's continue in our town hall format here. I want to go into the state of Maryland. Congresswoman Donna Edwards had a town hall recently, and I'll show her picture up here. She's conducting the town hall meeting.
One of the things CNN obtained at this meeting was an e-mail that conservatives are using across the country. It's gone out to millions of people, criticizing the Obama health care plan and the details. And you see it here.
And it goes line by line through many specific criticisms of the plan. I want to read you one of them. This e-mail says that, on page 427, lines 15 through 24 of the House bill, quote, "the government mandates program for orders for end of life. The government has a say in how your life ends." If you go to the actual legislation on that page, what it is, is advanced care planning consultations. The bill would cover the costs of sitting down with someone to discuss a living will, to discuss a DNR.
Congressman Price, I want to go to you first. Many conservatives have said, "You know what? To say there are death panels, that the government can pull the plug on grandma, is simply wrong." Does it hurt your cause when conservative critics are misleading people and are twisting the facts?
PRICE: Well, I think this is symptomatic of the process that we've been through, and that is that it's been mostly in secret, that it hasn't been a bipartisan way, certainly in the House.
PRICE: The concern that people have across this land is, what role is the government going to play? Who's going to make these crucial decisions? And when they go to that area of the bill and they see that the government will mandate, will dictate that the physician and the patient, who is eligible for Social Security, have that conversation at least once every five years, and then they see earlier this year that the Comparative Effectiveness Research Council was put in place, and the Congress refused to say that it would only deal with clinical situations, it would also deal with costs, and you put those things together, and people have a reasonable concern that the government is going to be making decisions that ought to be left to families and patients and doctors.
That's where these decisions ought to stay. The problem is, that's not what the bill says.
KING: Well, you say it mandates. Others who read the bill, including our organizations, fact-checkers and other organizations' fact-checkers, says that it covers and recommends you have these conversations.
Dr. Barrasso, the president says any talk of a death panel -- I'm holding up a newspaper here -- is simply dishonest. Do you view that as dishonest? And is someone who has legitimate questions about the cost of this bill, the scope of government involvement in this bill, Senator Barrasso, does it hurt your cause if things are being said and distributed that are misleading or take things out of context?
BARRASSO: You don't want anything to be misleading, but you want people to have the facts. In the Senate bill, the HELP Committee bill, John, this -- this is it, and it's not been bound together. This is what they came out with at committee four weeks ago. And the reason they haven't bound it together is because they don't want to put a price tag on it yet.
People want to read this all across America. We have the House bill, which is this 1,000-page bill. People want to read what's in the Senate HELP bill. It hasn't been bound together, so they don't have score on it, because there's going to be sticker shock again.
So I think when people can't get a copy of the bill to read, they may come up with ideas that say, "Gee, what does this really mean?" But I think some of this is so poorly put together and written that it can lead to different conclusions.
But you talk about misleading. I mean, yesterday -- and you played the tape of the president continuing to talk about, you know, you can keep the policy you want, you can keep what you have. Then, why in his town hall meeting yesterday did he immediately after saying that go and say, "But we're going to get rid of Medicare Advantage," a program that 11 million seniors in this country have, 3,000 in Wyoming, many in every congressional district, a program that actually does some things with prevention, does some things with coordinated care that Medicare doesn't do?
These are programs that people like. Eleven million seniors have this Medicare Advantage. The president wants to eliminate it, in terms of saving money, cutting costs to Medicare.
So I think he has to be cautious in terms of the things that he's saying, as well, because in the same -- in the same town hall meeting, he says one thing and then -- and then actually flips and says something very different about allowing people to keep what care they have. KING: Help me out. In the short time we have left, I'll go to each of you. Please take about a minute. Help me out, then. The three of you have worked as medical professionals, two doctors and a nurse. You understand how this works in the real world. You can read the bill and understand how it would work in real life after it leaves this town we call Washington.
Is there any way to reset this process and have a truly bipartisan conversation and meet the president's goal -- he was elected in a campaign in which he said he would do this out of the box -- and meet the president's goal of getting it done this year? Or as we have watched this miss the deadline to vote by August, go out into the country in August, have the prospects of a bipartisan bill this year simply evaporated?
Congresswoman, I'll go to you first. Ladies first.
JOHNSON: It's really difficult to tell, but it appears to be that the Republicans are just not going to cooperate, no matter what. They'd rather have a problem so they can talk about it.
KING: Is that right, Congressman Price?
PRICE: Not at all. In fact, the status quo is unacceptable. Everybody appreciates that. We believe strongly that there ought to be appropriate reforms. We need to keep what's good in the current system and fix what's flawed.
And the way to do that is to make certain that everybody is able to have health insurance, that that insurance is portable, they can take it with them if they change their job or they lose their job, and that medical decisions stay with doctors and patients. There's a way to do that in a responsible way, doesn't require increasing taxes one bit at all. I'm chair of the Republican...
JOHNSON: I'd like to know that way. KING: Let me move on. Senator Barrasso -- let me let Senator Barrasso have the last word. You are from what they call in Washington the world's most deliberative body. You're colleague from Wyoming, Mike Enzi, is in those conversations. And those Republicans in the room are increasingly pessimistic there can be a bipartisan deal. Do you share that pessimism?
BARRASSO: I want to work together with all people. My wife is a breast cancer survivor. Mike Enzi's wife is a colon cancer survivor. We know about pre-existing conditions; we know about the need to reform. I know it from the standpoint of being a doctor, as well as, you know, from -- from at home with my wife.
We've seen all the different sides of this. We need health care reform. It affects one-sixth of our economy. It matters to everybody in this country. We can do a much better job. We don't need a government takeover of health care, and we can do it without spending this incredible amount of money that we right now as a nation cannot afford.
KING: We will have all of you back, because we appreciate your unique insights. We're out of time at the moment. But, Congresswoman Bernie Johnson, Congressman Price, Senator Barrasso, thank you so much for coming in today, and we will welcome you back on another day.
PRICE: Thank you, John.
KING: And, next, our "American Dispatch" from South Dakota's Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, where staggering poverty exists in stark contrast to a breathtaking and beautiful landscape.
KING: As you know, we make it our mission to get out of Washington every week to visit you. "American Dispatch" is what we call it. Perhaps this week's should be called the "First Americans Dispatch."
We traveled out here to the prairie of South Dakota. We wanted to visit a proud people who live on the Cheyenne River reservation. Look at these statistics: A little more than 8 percent of South Dakota's population are Native Americans. Statewide unemployment, 5.1 percent. On the reservation, nearly 90 percent. Statewide poverty, 13.2 percent. On the reservation, more than 90 percent.
I want you to listen closely now as we visit, again the Cheyenne River reservation and meet a man and a people who say they don't need much, but often feel forgotten.
KING (voice-over): The August sun is scorching, but Herbert Hale is busy pulling weeds, carefully.
HALE: I have to be careful. Sometimes there's some snakes around here, rattlesnakes. Nothing to mess around with. Put them in a pile, let them dry, put them in a box, crumble them up, start a fire.
KING: Start a fire in here, his one-room cabin on a western South Dakota hillside.
(on-screen): Tell me about your home.
HALE: Fully falling apart. That place is rottening right through, and I've got to put a new one in there. It leaks. The floor, I've got to fix.
KING: No running water and no electricity. A rickety steel cot and a rusting wood-burning stove, all the comforts Herbert Hale says he needs.
HALE: All I need is logs, glue, dirt and water, put it together, then cement, chicken string. And as long as the windows don't break, it will be nice and warm. KING: Herbert is 54 years old, an Army Vietnam combat veteran and part of two stunning statistics on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Unemployment runs above 80 percent. And in Ziebach County, the nation's poorest, nearly six in 10 live in poverty, among children the poverty rate eclipses 70 percent.
Herbert last held a steady job as a firefighter back in the early 1980s. His back gave out. And then worse...
HALE: Cancer caught up to me. I have a brain tumor.
KING: There are no jobs here in tiny Cherry Creek, not even a gas station or general store. So nearly every day he heads to Eagle Butte looking for odd jobs.
HALE: Take the trash out, they put it in back. I sleep in the front.
KING (on camera): And how much can you make in a day doing that?
HALE: Oh, I don't know, probably tops is 20.
KING (voice-over): Twenty dollars tops. A man who doesn't own a car looking for work in a town 40 miles from home. Fellow tribal members call him "Walking Herbert Hale."
HALE: Somebody will pick me up.
KING: Often that somebody is Bryce in the Woods, Lakota Indian and tribal council member whose district including Cherry Creek and who thinks most of the politicians in far-away Washington don't understand places and people like this.
BRYCE IN THE WOODS, LAKOTA TRIBAL COUNCIL: I think there's a stereotype out there that all tribes have casinos. And that's not true.
KING: This is one source of hope, a tutoring center where Lakota can study and then take their high school equivalency exam.
BRYCE IN THE WOODS: You know, we have all of the negativity, but there's still a way that we can bring that respect back into the family and stop being punished, stop being stereotyped.
KING: The fight against systemic poverty, Bryce in the Woods says the tribe must first help itself. He backs land reforms he said would better spread grazing proceeds among all Lakota. As he and others suggest, tribal factions and rivalries, easy to see at council meetings, often slow progress.
This medical center is being built with stimulus funds, and nearly 70 Lakota are benefiting from construction-related jobs. This was the first tribe to endorse candidate Obama, and now that there's a President Obama, elected Tribal Chairman Joseph Brings Plenty is among those who believes the Lakota have yet to receive their fair share. CHAIRMAN JOSEPH BRINGS PLENTY, LAKOTA TRIBE COUNCIL: At this point very appreciative to what we have received. But as far as expectation, I can say no, I feel that we are forgotten because we don't have that voice out there.
KING: To visit is to hear both of historical grievances and immediate needs: more jobs, better schools, help with the severe water shortage. No one answer, but a striking, startling contrast of chronic poverty surrounded by land that is so rich and so breathtaking.
KING: A beautiful place. And this quick footnote: every week, we write about our travels on cnn.com, and this week's dispatch struck a cord. Citizens for Financial Justice, a non-profit organization that helps military veterans, wanted to help Herbert Hale, and through Harr Motors in Aberdeen, South Dakota, is working to donate a car to help Herbert get around. Reason to smile this Sunday.
We want to say good bye to our international audience for this hour. But up next for our viewers here in the United States, Howard Kurtz and his "RELIABLE SOURCES" look at how the media covered Michael Vick's return to the NFL.
KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.
KING (voice-over): Angry protesters and heated rhetoric are dominating coverage of the health care debate. Just how much are the media to blame for turning up the volume?
Plus Michael Vick lands in Philadelphia, but can he win over unforgiving fans or a press corps skeptical of second chances?
This hour STATE OF THE UNION Howard Kurtz, as always, breaks it down with his "RELIABLE SOURCES."