Sherrod Brown: Orrin And His Party Don't Much Like Medicare

In between Ben Nelson's hackery which John is going to tackle here, Sherrod Brown on State of the Union did a nice job of calling out Orrin Hatch for
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In between Ben Nelson's hackery which John is going to tackle here, Sherrod Brown on State of the Union did a nice job of calling out Orrin Hatch for the Republicans hatred of Medicare and explaining why it is important, at minimum, to have a public option included in the health care bill.

KING: Senator Brown, let me come to you. A big state, health care's a huge issue. I'm wondering if you share the frustration that many progressives on the House side share when they're told, well, the White House is pushing this idea of a trigger, maybe, because they want to keep Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, the one Republican who has backed it in the Senate so far. There are many who have said, this is the United States of America, not the United States of Maine. Does the White House have the calculation wrong here?

BROWN: Well, I'll answer the question about the trigger first. The trigger says, let's give the insurance companies two more years after they've had five decades since World War II to do things right. They continue their practices of pre-existing condition. You know, reports recently that a woman that has a C-section, by some insurance companies, will be denied care because that's considered a pre- existing condition. A woman that's been a victim of domestic violence, that's considered a pre-existing condition because her husband or boyfriend or whomever is more likely to hit her again.

I mean, the insurance companies have had their chance to do this right. We need the public option now. We need it in large part because it will inject competition into places where they don't have it. In southwest Ohio in my state, two insurance companies have 85 percent of the market. They need more competition to discipline those companies, to make them more honest, to bring prices down.

That's why the trigger simply doesn't work. We don't give the insurance companies two more years or three more years to get their act together. They've had their chance. We need -- I'm fine with the state opt out. If Nebraska or Utah doesn't want to do the public option, their governor and legislature can pass a law saying, we're not going to give our citizens that right to have a public option.

KING: Is that a line in the sand for you? Many have said you might lose Olympia Snowe if you don't have a trigger. Will they lose Sherrod Brown if you do have a trigger?

BROWN: No, I don't draw lines in the sand. I've gotten a lot of pressure from progressives saying, draw a line in the sand. I don't want to do that. I want to get the best bill possible. But I see that the public overwhelmingly wants a public option. Seventy percent of physicians according to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation want a public option. At least 52 or 3 or 4 Democratic senators have said they want a strong public option, according to Tom Harkin, the chairman of the committee. I think that's the best thing for our country.

KING: Well Senator Hatch, come in on this, because you hear these two Democrats making their case for health care reform and what they hear from Republicans is no public option. These two disagree, perhaps on exactly how to do it, but they're both open to some proposal. I want to show the front page of "The New York Times." Small business faces sharp rise in health care costs. The story goes on to say, "Insurance brokers and benefits consultants say their small business clients are seeing premiums go up an average of about 15 percent, double the rate of last year's increase. That means the annual premium that was $4,500 per employee in 2008 and $4,800 this year would rise to $5,500 in 2010." If, Senator Hatch, there can be in your view no public option, that's too much of a government role in this, what is the Republican answer to force the insurance companies to bring down rates?

HATCH: Well first of all, we know that Medicare, for instance, was enacted in 1965, that's a public option. Today, it's $38 trillion in unfunded liability. Medicaid is going broke within the next 10 years. We know that if the Democrats get 60 votes in the Senate, we're going to have a public option.

It may not be called that and they may call it an opt-out, but I guarantee you the process will go there. And why? Because they're going to have this in bill that they're going to cover people, 133 percent of the poverty level. And that's, like I say, that's 33 percent above New York's current expenditure. It's almost double what our expenditure is in Utah.

If that happens and states can't live with it, you're going to have a fiasco on your hands. So this vote to stop 60 votes in the Senate is really crucial. Now Republicans, we have six various plans. I agree with those who say that the states can solve their problems better than the federal government. Anybody who believes that this 1,500-page bill -- by the way, Hillary care was only 1,300 pages. That gives you some idea. That's just the bill out of the Finance Committee. Anybody that believes that's not going to raise taxes, not increase the deficit, and not affect our benefits, that's why the American people are so concerned.

They know that if the federal government takes over this, we're all going to be in trouble and it all comes down to whether or not we can stop them from getting 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans would like 50 state laboratories, 50 states working on these things with yes, the help from the federal government and doing it in accordance with the needs of those states.

If we did that, I think you'd find a really good health care system that would incrementally grow, be better, save costs, save -- bring down insurance premiums from where they are going to go if we don't. And I have to say, you know, stop the federal government from taking over everything in our lives.

KING: Let me ask the two Democrats quickly in closing, after hearing that, Senator Hatch's impassioned case, Senator Brown, to you first, and quickly, please. Do you care about having a Republican vote on this bill or do you just want to get the bill?

BROWN: I would love to see Republicans' votes. On the Health Committee, on which Senator Hatch and I sit, we accepted 160 Republican amendments, a couple dozen from Senator Hatch that I think improves the bill. So it comes down to philosophically, and you can hear that in Orrin's comments, that Orrin and his party don't much like Medicare.

HATCH: We love Medicare. We don't like the way it's run.

BROWN: He talked about the $38 trillion which is really a myth of unfunded liability. The fact is, Medicare works, government can play a positive role. Medicare has 3 or 4 percent overhead, administrative expenses. Private insurance has 20 to 30 percent.

So the public option is just going to keep the insurance companies more honest, it's going to help bring prices down. It's an option. You can choose Aetna or Cigna, you can choose a company just down the street from me, Medical Mutual if you live in Cleveland or Akron, but you can also choose the public option, just an option, that's all we're asking.

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