Democrats Try To Tweak Health Care Law

Senate Democrats who supported passage of the Affordable Care Act have grown increasingly frustrated with the bumpy rollout of HealthCare.gov, the site Americans use to sign up for insurance. Guest host Don Gonyea talks with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who introduced the Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act to address concerns about about the law.

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DON GONYEA, HOST:

President Obama apologized this week for the fact that some Americans are losing their health plans despite his promises they wouldn't. The President spoke with NBC News.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am sorry that they are, you know, finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me. We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and that we're going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.

GONYEA: Some Democratic lawmakers have offered legislation to fix problems with the rollout. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is one of them. I asked her how her bill would address the President's promise.

SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: Well, my bill makes it clear that that was a promise made and that's a promise we're going to keep. It's as simple as that. But let me explain a little bit about if you have insurance you can keep it. One point eight million people in my state have insurance through their employer. One point five have it through public programs, Medicare or Medicaid. And less than 4 percent have it through the individual market. That individual market was broken. People were getting dropped all the time, rates were getting raised, and the policies offered weren't even that great.

However, the President said if you have those kinds of policies, in that 4 percent, you are entitled to keep it. So I think that we should honor that.

GONYEA: And that doesn't undermine a core principle of the ACA, that people have access to health plans that are of a certain quality?

LANDRIEU: Well, if it was a much larger number, it might cause it to not work, but this is a small enough number that I think the concepts of this will still stay intact.

GONYEA: You were among a group of Senate Democrats who met with the President this week to talk about healthcare.gov. What did he have to say and did he fully address the concerns you brought to the table?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, there were a fairly large group of us and so everyone, you know, we talked about many, many different issues. But again, our group was meeting with the President to fix the Affordable Care Act. So that's basically what our discussion was about, to see what we could do to fix it and continue to build on its great promise.

GONYEA: And are you confident that the fixes will be forthcoming and in a timely manner?

LANDRIEU: Well, I remain hopeful and optimistic. There's no excuse for this, but it's understandable. This is a big change; there are a lot of states that were kind of obstructing this at the state level, refusing to start the exchanges, refusing to expand Medicaid. It's been much more difficult rollout than I think many of us envisioned. But in the states that have been leaning forward, Washington State, Kentucky; the New Mexico small business exchange is getting really rave reviews.

So there are some real pockets of hope and bright spots and let's just keep working to build this much better opportunity for the people of our country.

GONYEA: American Crossroads, the Conservative PAC affiliated with Carl Rove, has identified you and a couple of your colleagues in the Senate - Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina - as vulnerable democratic incumbents. Are you worried that the healthcare.gov rollout will affect your campaign for re-election next year?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, I think it's important to remember that Crossroads was against the Affordable Care Act before it was a bill. They've been against it every day since it passed and when the Supreme Court upheld it they were still against it. So they've never been for it, and I always have. So I'm going to continue to fix this bill and we'll just see as this goes on. But I'm confident that this is the right approach to take. We may have to fix it, but not to defund it or to tear it apart.

GONYEA: Senator Landrieu, thanks so much for your time.

LANDRIEU: Thank you so much.

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GONYEA: You're listening to NPR News.

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