Hoyer Says Health Care Overhaul Possible

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Health care overhaul is issue No. 1 for Democrats in Washington. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says President Obama's plan for a total overhaul of health care is on track. House Democrats moved one step closer Tuesday when they released a 1,000-page proposal for change. Hoyer discusses the Democratic proposals.


More now on health care from the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. The House Democrats unveiled their plan to pay for health care yesterday: a tax surcharge on the wealthiest Americans. Welcome to the program, Mr. Majority Leader.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): It's good to be with you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Are you prepared - since some senators have already declared the tax surcharge on the wealthiest taxpayers dead on arrival when this bill goes to conference eventually - are you prepared to negotiate some alternative means of paying for health-care overhaul?

Rep. HOYER: There are going to be a lot of proposals on the table on how to pay for this bill. And we have vowed to pay for any health-care reform bill that we adopt. Clearly, at least half of the payment will be done by wringing excess costs out of the system. But the balance will have to be paid for. And there are a lot of options on the table. And we're prepared to discuss various different options. We prefer that the Senate and the House have the same option. But if that's not possible, then we'll have to agree in conference.

SIEGEL: Is the idea for Democrats in the House completely dead, that you should to some extent tax employer contributions to health care and make us more cost conscious about what we're spending on health insurance?

Rep. HOYER: Well, I personally think that option is one that the president suggested. I think from a policy standpoint, a good option. However, it is clear that that option did not meet with much success in either the House or the Senate side, outside of the Senate Finance Committee. So, we're considering other options.

SIEGEL: At the core of what House Democrats have proposed is a broad access to a basic health-care plan that would include even such things as vision and dental care, I gather, for children in the family. What would such a plan - what would such a basic plan cost a family of four? How much a month?

Rep. HOYER: Well, obviously that would depend upon competition. And I can't give you a price on that because we're not setting price in this bill. That will be set largely by the market and hopefully, by competition because we're not going to undermine people's choice. The object of this bill is to bring cost down for families, for individuals and businesses, and to bring cost down for the government itself.

SIEGEL: But you're going to try to influence that choice by penalizing people if they don't have health insurance. There would be, I gather, a two and a half percent tax effectively…

Rep. HOYER: Well, look, everybody needs to have health insurance. It's sort of like everybody has to have automobile insurance. And the reason for that is that we know accidents are inevitable, and we know as well that illness is inevitable - not for everybody all the time. But at some point in time in our lives, we're going to need health care. And if they can't afford the full boat, then they'll get some help. But we believe, not only do we need to bring cost down, but one way to do it is to have everybody participate and share the burden more broadly.

SIEGEL: Yours is a huge bill in the House. A Senate health subcommittee - or committee has reported out a bill. The Senate Finance Committee has not yet chimed in on how the Senate would want to fund their bill. Can all of this actually get done by September or October? Or is this going to leak well into the end of this year?

Rep. HOYER: No, I think the answer to that question is a very definite yes, it can be done. And not only can it be done, it's our, certainly, intention to get it done within that time frame. This issue has been, frankly, six decades in the making. And it's an issue on which President Obama made certain pledges, and the Democrats made certain pledges - but the Republicans also said was necessary to pursue. Obviously, there are differences on how you get to where we need to get. But I think certainly, we can do so in the time frame of this year. And that's our intention.

SIEGEL: One last point: One of the pledges that President Obama made as a candidate was, he said he was against individual mandates. He said he was against forcing people to buy health insurance. That idea has gone from something the president didn't like in the primary season, and the general election season, into what apparently is now a mainstream notion on Capitol Hill, what happened?

Rep. HOYER: The president clearly wants to accomplish an objective. And yes, he had certain ideas on ways and means to accomplish that objective. But he understands in a democracy dealing with a legislative body, that the way you make progress is create consensus, and the way you create consensus is you have to compromise.

SIEGEL: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Rep. HOYER: You bet.

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