ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
President Obama hosted 40 congressional Democrats and Republicans today for a much-anticipated televised summit on health care. His goal, he said, to cut through the partisanship and find consensus on how to fix the nation's ailing health care system.
President BARACK OBAMA: It strikes me that if we got an open mind, if we're listening to each other, if we're not engaging in sort of the tit for tat and trying to score political points during the next several hours, that we might be able to make some progress. And if not, at least we will have better clarified for the American people what the debate is about.
SIEGEL: But bipartisan consensus on finding solutions was not to be. Here's Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): We believe that our views represent the views of a great number of the American people who have tried to say in every way they know how, through town meetings, through surveys, through elections in Virginia, and New Jersey and Massachusetts, that they oppose the health care bill that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve. And more importantly, we want to talk about - we believe we have a better idea.
SIEGEL: So the back and forth began and went on throughout the day with little agreement on how to move forward on issues like containing rising premium costs and medical malpractice. Representative Dave Camp of Michigan was at the Blair House meeting. He's the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. Welcome once again to the program, Representative Camp.
Representative DAVE CAMP (Republican, Michigan): Well, good to be with you, Robert.
SIEGEL: The president was at pains to say that his bill is not a federal government takeover of health care. It's a bill, he says, that sets a baseline standard for what you can call a health insurance policy. First, do you accept that this is not a federal takeover of health care that he proposes?
Rep. CAMP: Well, it very much is a federal-government-centric approach to health care because not only does the federal government set the plans that are in the exchange, but when this bill becomes up full and running, it sets the requirements for all insurance plans all over the country.
And so I think there are a couple points. We were able to at least be heard and have some exposure to the ideas that we've been promoting for a long time. And the president did finally say in the close that we do have ideas that lower costs in insurance and that do it without increasing taxes. And we don't cut Medicare. And we don't have new mandates in our proposals.
So this is really the first opportunity we've had to really focus not only our colleagues and the president, but also the American people on the proposals we've had.
SIEGEL: But federal-government-centric with heavy federal regulation from Washington, that's not a federal takeover. Would you back away from the phrase a federal takeover of the health care system?
Rep. CAMP: Well, the problem is because all of the rules and regulations are going to be set in Washington, in essence, unless the plan qualifies under Washington's standards, there's not going to be a plan. So it's going to be very federally centered. And what we want to see is, actually, particularly with health insurance plans, continue to have that regulated by the states, but also have some of the ideas we mentioned about cross-state pooling and other things that we believe will immediately lower costs.
SIEGEL: But in...
Rep. CAMP: ...should be about lowering costs.
SIEGEL: But in cross-state pooling, would I be guaranteed in my state that if my legislature and my state insurance regulations say you can only sell a policy that doesn't ban people on the basis of preexisting conditions, that nobody could come in and sell me a policy that does bar me on the basis of preexisting conditions?
Rep. CAMP: Well, states would be able to set that standard if they wanted to do that. We believe they could do that. But, also, we think that you should have a choice of plans. And one of the things that we want to try to do is give people some options. And one of the things that does help bring down cost is certainly what we call health savings accounts where you can get a plan that actually has a little bit higher deductible and you use tax-free dollars in order to purchase that plan.
SIEGEL: Senator Durbin of Illinois said that what they're talking about, really, is what he and what you have in the way of health insurance, an exchange with a number of different options, different health insurance plans you might take. All of them pretty good health insurance plans and you can choose bigger or smaller options. Would you agree with that?
Rep. CAMP: We do have a good insurance plan. We have health savings accounts. But one of the, I think, problems that I think this bill doesn't do and CBO has - the Congressional Budget Office - a nonpartisan arm that scores legislation, so that they actually will cause rates to go up because the federal government is going to set all these standards, rates will go up between 10 and 12 percent. And that is a concern of ours. We think we should be focusing on reducing insurance rates and that's...
SIEGEL: But the president's argument there is that the rates would go up because there would be sufficient mandates that you couldn't sell somebody a junk insurance policy that wouldn't cover anything.
Rep. CAMP: Well, it's not a junk insurance policy. Some of it's the kind of the mandates that, actually, people don't necessarily need or want. There are a lot of mandates in insurance all throughout the country and whether that's massage therapy or whatever, those are in law and we do think that you ought to be able to have an opportunity to get the kind of insurance you think you want or need. And we believe people can make that choice.
SIEGEL: Congressman Camp, your leader in the House, John Boehner, said in his statement that the American people he knows are struggling with health insurance. Do you think that your party has communicated effectively, not what you think is wrong with the Democratic plan, but your way to help people who are struggling with their health insurance problems?
Rep. CAMP: Well, it's always difficult in the minority to get your message heard and I think today was an important part of - anyone who tuned in or paid attention, that we do have ideas and we do care about people's health insurance. And we think the best way to help them get more coverage is to try to find ways to reduce the costs in the policy.
And, again, because this plan that the House and Senate have raised taxes and create a lot of new mandates and commissions and have a lot of cost associated with them, that doesn't make it possible for people to actually find policies that will...
SIEGEL: Congressman Camp, I'm going to have wrap it up there.
Rep. CAMP: All right, Robert.
SIEGEL: Thank you very much for speaking with us. Republican Congressman Dave Camp of Michigan.
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