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Rep. Charlie Dent On GOP Health Care Proposal


So if you're a Republican and you do not like the Affordable Care Act but you don't like the proposed replacements either, what do you do now? Charlie Dent is on the line. He's a House Republican from Pennsylvania, a member of the Tuesday Group of more moderate House Republicans. And he voted no on the House version of the health care replacement. Congressman, welcome to the program.

CHARLIE DENT: Hey, Steve. Thank you for having me on the show today.

INSKEEP: I was looking at your statement when the House passed the American Health Care Act. And you said you hoped that, quote, "cooler heads" in the Senate would produce a better bill. Well, now there is a Senate bill. Is it any better?

DENT: Well, Steve, obviously like anybody else, you know, I'm reviewing the bill that was released yesterday morning and then gauging its impact on Pennsylvania. I'm very interested to see the CBO score. And I look forward to hearing from some constituents on this - patients, patient advocates, providers and some others in the health care community - about the impacts of the bill.

On my first review though, I have to say that I remain concerned about the policy, and I'm disappointed in the process. The bill, structurally anyway, is similar, you know, to the House bill...


DENT: ...In which I opposed. And, like, for example, some aspects like the Medicaid expansion piece were - in some respects they were softened a little bit, in others they were hardened a little. And there are other parts that seemed to be problematic, too. But - so I'm going to continue to monitor this thing. I hope that it improves as it progresses through the Senate. But right now, I've got to say I have some pretty serious concerns.

INSKEEP: You know, you mentioned the CBO score, the Congressional Budget Office. I guess you're referring to the CBO scoring of a House version of the bill that found that something like 24 million Americans would lose or drop their health insurance in the coming years. You're waiting to see if the Senate bill does about the same, I suppose?

DENT: Yeah. I think we all want to see the numbers too on the number of people whose coverages will be affected. You know, the House - the score on the House bill was not good. I think it was 23 million people, you know, who are likely to lose coverage. Now let me just be clear, I don't think that what the CBO says is gospel. I mean, I - and they've often been wrong. But let's just assume that they're half right here, you know, that, you know, it's 12 million. It's still a...

INSKEEP: It's still pretty bad.

DENT: ...Bad number.

INSKEEP: Well, let me just ask you though, Congressman, because supporters of the House legislation - and I presume we'll hear this from Senate supporters of that legislation as well - have said Obamacare's failing. It's a disaster. We have to do something. We have to act fast. Do you accept the case that any bill is better than nothing and that you must do something quickly?

DENT: Well, I believe we need to do something. And that's something I believe needs to be a sustainable solution. You know, if we want to fix health care, I've felt we've ought to start from the center out. I mean, both Republicans and Democrats, and especially Democrats know this, that the individual insurance market has been failing. It was in bad shape before Obamacare. It's in worse shape now. So this individual insurance market where - what? - 7 or 8 percent of the people get their insurance needs to be repaired. So I think that's where we should really begin many of our discussions right now.

So, you know, if we try to do this - and I've always felt that as Republicans, you know, I don't want to make the same mistake the Democrats did, you know, back in 2010 where they muscled the health care law or Obamacare through on a partisan basis. And we've been fighting about the law ever since. I'm afraid if we as Republicans try to do the same thing, we'll suffer the same result the Democrats did. so...

INSKEEP: You know, I'm thinking Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, has said we are happy to talk about changing and improving Obamacare if you just drop this repeal demand. Are you saying you're an advocate of that approach, talk to Democrats and see what you can work out?

DENT: Well, I think, you know, Chuck Schumer and Democrats also have to be realistic too here, that we all know that parts of this law will need to be repealed, parts of it replaced, parts of it repaired, reformed and overhauled and parts of it retained. I think we have to all get our rhetoric right on this, that even to fix some things would require maybe some partial repeals - not the whole thing but, you know, obviously some partial repeals.

I mean, that's my view on this. There have to be - you know, I think that, you know, in some respects as Republicans, you know, we've kind of, you know, gotten out ahead. Our rhetoric was always for too long repeal, replace. And, you know - but we didn't have - there wasn't enough policy to back that. The reality is...

INSKEEP: Oh, now that raises another question. There are many Republicans who are saying, we campaigned on repealing Obamacare, therefore we have to do that. Is that a sufficient reason to go ahead with this legislation because so many Republicans promised to do something like this?

DENT: Well, what I've said, you know, if they're - you know, right after - I voted against the law back in 2010. And in 2010 and 2012, I thought repeal and replace was a message that, you know, was more practical at the time. But after the 2012 election, when President Obama was re-elected, then I felt that this law was going to have another four years to bake in.

And so, you know, I kind of watched my rhetoric quite a bit after the 2012 election, recognizing that there are parts of this law that were going to have to be, you know, reformed and repaired and retain and other parts repealed. But - and so I think we have to step back from this. But I've been talking with Democratic members who have told me that, you know, they acknowledge - that they want to fix some things and they do. We've sat down and started, you know, hashing out some ideas.

INSKEEP: All right. Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, really appreciate the time.

DENT: Hey, thank you, Steve. Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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