Rep. Waxman Weighs In On Affordable Care Act Problems

Steve Inskeep talks to Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California about the lower-than-expected number of Americans who successfully signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. A growing group of Democrats are backing a Republican plan to delay the penalties or allow Americans to keep their current plans.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Let's hear next from a defender of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of California is on the line. Congressman, welcome back to the program.

REPRESENTATIVE HENRY WAXMAN: Thank you. Pleased to be with you.

INSKEEP: Let's just remind people the president has had to apologize for saying that if people liked their health plans they could keep them. It's emerged that millions of people can't. Their health plans didn't meet the standards of the law. And House Republicans, as you know, want to vote this week on a bill to allow people to keep any plan they previously had. Will you vote yes with them?

WAXMAN: No. I won't vote for the Republican proposal because it will undermine the insurance system. They'll let people buy plans that discriminate when people have preexisting conditions, restore caps on their coverage, and force women to pay more than men for the same coverage. And if they have this whole new market, separate market, with these discriminatory healthcare plans, it will force the people in the Affordable Care plans themselves to pay much higher rates for their insurance next year. That's not a good outcome.

INSKEEP: Well, given that, Congressman, why did the president make this promise in the first place? Of course you have Democrats now, including Senators Mary Landrieu. Dianne Feinstein, saying actually the president ought to keep that promise. We should change the law.

WAXMAN: Well, the president is looking at different options and proposals to try to ameliorate the transition, but we can't let people stay in a separate health care plan for these individual policies. We've got to have one so that - one plan we're spreading the risks for those who get sick. People also who are healthy will be insured to help pay for the costs and keep those costs down.

INSKEEP: OK. So what can you do if you're not going to allow people to keep plans that they like?

WAXMAN: I think people will like a lot of the plans in the exchange but haven't had a chance to see them and realize that they'll get tax breaks to help pay for those plans. Not only that, when they go in the exchange or the marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act, they're going to find that they get tax subsidies to help them pay for it and a lot of these plans are good plans.

They're going to cover more of their health needs than some of the shoddy plans that people now have. And they think they're covered because they haven't gotten sick, but when they get sick they'll find out a rude shock, that the coverage is not going to be there.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask, Congressman, before we move on - former president Bill Clinton has said this is very simple. President Obama made a promise. He ought to find some way to keep that promise, that people can keep their plans. Was President Clinton wrong?

WAXMAN: People can keep their plans if the plan they had when the law was adopted is still in place. And a lot of those plans are not in place anymore. Insurance companies have canceled them. Or they changed them substantially.

INSKEEP: Because of Obamacare.

WAXMAN: Well, because of Obamacare. But insurance companies change their plans and raise their rates every year. You don't have a lifetime insurance coverage. You have to reenroll every year in an insurance plan. And so if these plans are different than the ones they had in 2010, when the law was adopted, then they're supposed to go to the exchange. If they're the same, they are grandfathered in.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Congressman Waxman. The president has said the website, which has been troubled, is going to be fixed by the end of this month and there is a bit of a clock running here, to say the least. If the website is not fixed in the next few weeks, how will you as a member of Congress hold the administration accountable?

WAXMAN: Well, I think the only fair thing to do at that point is not to penalize anybody for not being able to get their insurance in the timeframe that we figured if they're not able to buy insurance. But this is early yet, and if we get this website up by the end of November, people will be able to shop, to buy plans. I think they have till the end of February, maybe March, to buy their plans. So there's plenty of time.

INSKEEP: Just about 10 seconds here. Are you saying you would favor delaying the tax penalty for people who don't have insurance by a deadline?

WAXMAN: No. Unless they were unable to get it. But I think they will be able to get it...

INSKEEP: OK.

WAXMAN: ...if the plan is - if the website is fixed.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much.

WAXMAN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Congressman Henry Waxman, Democrat of California.

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