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Senate Considers GOP Health Bill With Newly Released CBO Data


Now that the Congressional Budget Office has given its assessment of the House Republican health care bill, the ball is in the Senate's court so to speak. So let's talk now with a Republican member of the Senate. Mike Rounds of South Dakota is in our studios this morning. Senator, thanks so much for coming in.

MIKE ROUNDS: Appreciate the opportunity to visit.

MARTIN: To recap here, the CBO score says that the House health care bill would reduce federal deficits by $119 million over the next decade. It also said that the number of people who would be uninsured would climb to 23 million. How is that affecting how you might vote or move forward with the Senate's version of this bill?

ROUNDS: We recognize that there are some parts of that that we have to deal with. We - it puts us in a position where we know that in order to do reconciliation we have to pay attention to what that CBO score indicates. But we also recognize that if the suggestion is that we would have 23 million people uninsured, we want to do a better job than what the House bill would do.

MARTIN: You want to get that number lower.

ROUNDS: Absolutely, but there's something else as well. You have to recognize the CBO doesn't exactly have the best reputation for being able to accurately describe 10 years out how many people you're actually going to have insured. And part of their suggestion is that since you take away a mandate saying you have to be insured, that means that people won't buy insurance. And so they're counting or trying to count the number of people who wouldn't buy insurance because they no longer have the mandate.

They haven't exactly been accurate in the past on the number that they indicated would be buying insurance under Obamacare. We don't think they're necessarily going to be accurate in this case, so we're not going to pay a lot of attention to that part. What we really want to do is talk about how we get to an end game, where we have an opportunity for people to actually be able to afford insurance again. When your prices continue to go up, and since 2013 we've actually had about a hundred percent increase across the board on health care costs under Obamacare.

You've got to be able to turn that and bend that curve. And part of it also is during this time period in which we start to transition back into an actual market-driven plan that's trying to bring down prices and still provide a quality of care for individuals, you can't simply look at the American public and say it's your own problem to deal with these high prices that are literally a hangover from Obamacare.

So we've got to be able to help them as well, and that means a transition period in which individuals, regardless of their income, have some sort of assistance in helping to pay for the cost of health care because the federal government did this to the American public.

MARTIN: So now the federal government has a responsibility, you're saying, to help people afford health care.

ROUNDS: Now we have to recognize that these citizens who now have this horrendous health care price in front of them, we've got to do something to try to help transition that until such point where we actually see health care costs start to slow down and in some cases actually be reduced in terms of the premiums that are being offered.

So we don't want to leave people out in the cold is basically what it amounts to. And we have to recognize it's not their fault, that this was put upon them. And look. I know it sounds like I'm being really critical of Obamacare.

I think people sincerely thought they were doing what was right when they created this thing. It is not working. And part of the time pressure that we've got is it's going to get worse again next year. In fact, in my home state of South Dakota, they're already projecting increases of an additional 40 percent.

MARTIN: So why the need to repeal? Why not just fix it if the intentions were right and the infrastructure is there to create health care?

ROUNDS: Because the concept was wrong in the first place that suggested that one size should fit all. To suggest that a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., is going to know what the coverages should be, and that everybody has to take the same thing, and that when you start squeezing that in saying that everybody's got to have the same coverages and you can't choose for yourself what you want, what happens is then as you squeeze that bubble in, suddenly what happens is either premiums go up and you push the prices up or you also have deductibles and co-pays start to go up, both of which have occurred with Obamacare.

MARTIN: Does this mean though that - so you put it back to the states to make their own decisions. Does that mean...

ROUNDS: Not quite, not quite. Every...

MARTIN: So people aren't going to be discriminated against depending on where they live?

ROUNDS: No. Look. Every single discussion we've had include certain what I call safe harbors, areas where people can be assured that they're going to have protections, guaranteed renewability of insurance product, guaranteed portable from one group plan to another group plan, the ability to keep your kids on your policy until age 26, a very popular item in it.

For individuals with pre-existing conditions, once you are in the system, every proposal that I've heard so far says you stay in the system. And if you do have a serious illness, you can't run out of coverage.

MARTIN: Finally, since I've got you here, I want to ask you about President Trump's new budget plan - Less money for Medicaid and assistance programs like food stamps, welfare, more money for the military. Do you think it's a good plan?

ROUNDS: I fully support the increase in the military. Unless we are free, nothing else truly matters. And we've got to do something. We've got three nuclear submarines sitting at port, not in depot but at port because we don't have the money to do the repairs on them. We have to do something about what's happened to our military in terms of that respect.

MARTIN: Do you think...

ROUNDS: Now, the other side of it though. Look. He had to balance the budget. His recommendations were these are the places where I'm putting the emphasis. I don't believe that you're going to see the cuts that have been suggested by the administration. Crop insurance is another one, they zeroed that out. So yeah, we're going to make changes in it. We still have control of the purse strings.

MARTIN: Senator Mike Rounds, Republican from South Dakota. Thank you so much.

ROUNDS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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