CELESTE HEADLEE, for The Takeaway: Good morning to all of you. I wanted to start with Congresswoman Johnson. You have said that you couldn't imagine supporting a bill that did not have the public option in it. Why is that?
REP. JOHNSON: Because there are so many people that the insurance companies will not cover. If they were intending to cover them, they'd be covered now. And the only way that it seems that they will get insurance is to have an option to pay premiums for their insurance that are affordable to them.
HEADLEE: Vic Snyder, you served in the services, you served in Vietnam, and you bring not only your military experience but also your family practice experience as well, and you say you can get health care reform done without the public option; why do you say that?
REP. SNYDER: The public option has never been a dealbreaker for me. Several reasons, first of all, even by the CBO analysis, they say at the end of the 10 years or so that there'll only be 10 million people in the public option. I mean, it's like the tail on the dog. The tail will not wag that dog. The reality is, even if we include a public option, it will still be the private insurance companies that will be driving most of healthcare for working American families. So I think in some ways, what all this focus and arguing about the public option has done is take our eyes off the ball of the insurance companies, and what would be the kind of more intense regulation that would help them, ultimately, and help the American people. But I think that health care reform is, is ... I think we let ourselves off the hook if we think all we have to do is include a public option and somehow that solves all our problems. I don't think that's the case, and also, politically, I don't think it's going to be in the final bill that's signed into law.
HEADLEE: Congressman McDermott, you actually started a health care system in Washington. Can you tell me about that?
REP. MCDERMOTT: Well, a number of years ago, this was in the '80s, I started what's called the "Basic Health Plan" for the working poor, basically to meet the needs of those people who did not have enough money to buy into the system generally, but who were not eligible for Medicaid. They were not poor enough for that. So I put together a subsidized program, and it's possible for us to do that, nationally.
HEADLEE: That was the first state program in the country to provide low-cost health insurance. Was that a so-called public option?
REP. MCDERMOTT: Sure was! People of all walks of life who couldn't get insurance any other way could get into the Washington Basic Health Plan. It didn't have any preconditions, you couldn't be excluded for any illness or injury, and it worked very well. I mean, in tight budget times like now, they've been cutting it, but it's worked very well.
HEADLEE: Again, we're speaking with all Democrats today, we're going to speak with Republicans tomorrow. The question for you, Congresswoman Johnson: the Senate just turned down the two public option amendments, and yet the House, Speaker Pelosi says the public option is probably a deal breaker. Are you guys going to be able to reconcile a deal together?
REP. JOHNSON: You know, all I'm interested in is making sure that every person has an option to purchase a premium to cover themselves. It can be a public option, perhaps it can be something else. Whoever can think of some way that it can be done, I'm willing to listen, but I do think that is not the only thing that I'm concerned about. I'm still concerned about the other components, with no previous condition, with complications, so that some of the prices can go down. Not dropping people when they become ill. I just think that there's more to it than the public option, but I want to know what process would be used to make sure that people who are not covered now can get coverage that they can afford.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY, for The Takeaway: Well, Congresswoman Johnson and Congressman Vic Snyder of Arkansas and Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington State, you're all Democrats, true, but we asked you to come on the program because you all have medical expertise. Congressman Eddie Bernice Johnson, you're a nurse, we should remind people that Vic Snyder, you were a family physician, and Jim McDermott, you're a trained psychiatrist. You know, I'm scratching my head here a little bit. To have that medical background, does that make you, does that make you an authority in this health care reform debate, or do people accuse you guys of being special interests? Congresswoman Johnson, you first, and I just want a response from everybody.
REP. JOHNSON: Well, I don't know that I would be considered a special interest. I don't serve on any committee that covers the subject. I do keep up with it, but I also know that I've been on the side where people cannot get health insurance; I've been on the side where the insurance companies will not pay for the first day in a hospital, and that's one of the most expensive days, and they won't pay for the last day in the hospital, and that's the one where they do the evaluation to make sure you're ready to go home. So those are the most expensive days in a hospital. I do think that much of this reform has to be with insurance companies.
HEADLEE: Congressman Snyder, are people looking to you for insight into the health care debate?
REP. SNYDER: Well, health care is one of those issues where everyone has insight. I don't care what your business is, I tell my friends and have for the 20 years I've been in public life, which is, in medical school they teach you about nosebleeds and sprained ankles. They don't teach you about insurance law. And a lot of what we're talking about is the complications of these man-made institutions. I'll give you my favorite example: I was on a plane a couple of weeks ago, flying into Little Rock, it was nighttime. The guy gets up from his seat to head to the bathroom, the plane was dark, except for just the reading lights, so he sticks this note in my hand and says, "Here, I want you to read this." Well, what it was, he was a small businessperson desperate for something to happen on healthcare, because the premiums are going up every year, and it's killing him and killing the small businesses he works with. He'd written this note on a barf bag, but he was so desperate to get the message out: "Don't listen to these people who are trying to scare you off from doing anything. It has to be done." So I think those are the voices that we hear. My friends who are doctors, they're divided. Nurses are divided I mean, Americans are divided on this. But ultimately, it comes down to: there's a substantial segment of the American public that knows that what's going on isn't working for everyone as well as it should. They've got apprehensions about where we're going with it, but they're very willing to keep listening. Can we come up with a workable solution that we can pay for it? I think that's where Jim and Eddie Bernice and I are all in agreement. We want to see something to move this ball down the field, because what we're doing now isn't working for America like it ought to.
HEADLEE: So, Congressman Jim McDermott, let me start with you. Eventually, at some point, the House bill and the Senate bill have to get reconciled to come up with some kind of law to get passed and sent to the president. Give me the three things that you absolutely have to see in the health care bill in order for you to vote for it.
REP. MCDERMOTT: There has to be some way to make sure that everybody has access, and I think that a public option is the most logical way to do that. I think that there is... there'll be lots of argument about "what is a public option?" When we talk about it here on the phone and everybody's listening all over the place, everybody has a different idea in mind, but there should be a way that no matter what your circumstances in this country are, you should be able to get health insurance that can never be taken away, so that you can't be broken by a illness or an injury, with health care bills as the major cause of bankruptcies...
HEADLEE: Yes, 60% or so ...
REP. MCDERMOTT: You have got to find a way to give Americans security, and part of that is controlling cost. So I think anything that happened yesterday, people shouldn't say that's the end. You don't watch a football game, watch a play in the second quarter and say, "well, that's the end of the game." The game is going to go on and on and on until we get it done.
HEADLEE: Congressman Snyder, what thing do you have to have in the bill to vote for it?
REP. SNYDER: We have to see some aspect of insurance law reform; what Eddie Bernice was talking about, I agree with 100%. Deal with this issue of lifetime caps and preexisting conditions. We have to recognize that people need to be required to be in the system, but if we're going to do that, there has to be subsidies to help them be able to pay for it. I think that's the core crux of a plan, and then one other part would have to be, there's got to be some kind of standardization of a package of benefits. We want people to have real policies, not policies that have huge deductibles and a lot of gaps in coverage.
HEADLEE: Okay, that's Congressman Vic Snyder from Arkansas, also Congressman Jim McDermott from Washington State, and Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, from the 30th Congressional district of Texas. Tomorrow we're going to hear from Republican legislators who are medical professionals about health care legislation.