Pool Reporter Alex Leary, Washington Bureau Chief for the Tampa Bay Times, brings us into the inner sanctum of the White House to learn how Donald Trump and Mike Pence are manipulating the debate over the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) with the Republicans’ American Health Care Plan (Ryancare).
On March 13, he hosted a group of Obamacare “victims”, followed by his first-ever meeting of his Cabinet which featured remarks by Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price’s dismissal of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scathing report projecting that 24 million people would lose health care under the Republican plan:
This is Leary’s report:
POTUS entered the room at 11:26 a.m. and pool was inside for roughly 33 minutes.
POTUS thanked the participants for sharing their stories about “the very, very failed and failing Obamacare law.”
Several times POTUS complained about news media coverage of the debate. “The press is making Obamacare look so good suddenly. I’m watching the news. It looks so good. … First of all, it covers very few people and it’s imploding. And ’17 will be the worst year.”
POTUS cast the coverage as nostalgia. “It’s a little bit like President Obama. When he left, people liked him. When he was here, people didn’t like him so much. That’s the way life goes. That’s human nature. The fact is, Obamacare is a disaster.”
The best political play, POTUS said, would to let the law collapse on its own over the coming year – “because it’s going to blow itself off the map. But that’s the wrong thing to do for the country. It’s the wrong thing to do for our citizens.”
POTUS said his administration and “a lot of people in the Senate and a lot of people in the House are committed to repealing and replacing this disastrous law with a health care plan that lowers costs, expands choice and ensures access for everyone. You represent the millions of Americans who have seen their Obamacare premiums increase by double-digit and even triple-digits …”
POTUS said the House bill would provide “far” more choices at lower costs. “Americans should pick the plan they want. Now they’ll be able to pick the plan. They’ll be able pick the doctor they want. They’ll be able to do a lot of things that the other plan was supposed to give and it never gave. …”
“You’re not going to have one-size-fits-all. Instead, we’re going to be working to unleash the power of the private marketplace to let insurers come in and compete for your business and you’ll see rates go down, down, down and you’ll see plans go up, up, up. You’ll have a lot of choices. You’ll have plans that nobody is even thinking of today.”
Seated across the table in the Roosevelt Room was VPOTUS. At one head of the table was HHS Secretary Tom Price; at the other. Gary Cohn, director of the White House’s National Economic Council.
The rest of the table was filled out by individuals (see list below) invited to tell their stories.
A collection of Obamacare “victims” from across the country shared their stories. (names below as provided by WH).
But first, more from POTUS, who said the Obamacare repeal and replacement must come in three steps, due to working with Congress. “I’d love to do it all in one package, but if you did it that way, it can’t get done.”
As pool was led out, a reporter asked POTUS if he had “any message” for people worried about losing coverage if Obamacare goes away.
“It’ll get better. If we’re allowed to do what we want to do, it will get better. Much better.,” POTUS replied. “Hopefully it will get very good.”
- Carrie Couey, from Colorado, said her rates are “three times” higher than when Obamacare began and that has hurt her family cattle ranching business. “We can’t afford our equipment if we’re paying these rates year after year after year. Our food source is in jeopardy because of this health care law.”
- Brittany Ivey, Georgia, said she left a full-time job in 2009 to raise her two children. She said a family plan for four cost them $650 per month and by 2015, it had gone up “102 percent.” She said her husband’s employer dropped the family from coverage so she looked for a new job but couldn’t find one that offered insurance. At that point, the family got Obamacare. “We believed the sales pitch that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Even though we were going to have to pay $1,300 a month for Obamacare, we thought we’d still be ok with our doctors.” But she said doctors would not accept the coverage. “We paid them $8,000 in five months and were never able to use it.” She and her husband earn a combined $74,000 a year, Ivey said, but health care is too burdensome. “It’s almost put our family in financial ruin.”
- Elias Seife, Florida, said his individual plan was canceled. He said his parents came from Communist Cuba. “They know what socialism is all about. I know what socialism is … and this whole system was meant to have one single provider.”
- Kim Sertich, Arizona, said her premium last year was $365 a month and it had risen to $809 a month this year, with a deductible of $6,800. “It just didn’t seem like a good use of my money,” she said, adding she had opted out and went into a faith-based program.
- Louis Brown, Virginia, said he worked for the Democratic National Committee when the Affordable Care Act was going through Congress in 2009 and that he later resigned, citing opposition to abortion. He supported Trump in the election and said that he was on hand to support efforts to place people “at the center of our American health care system, not the government.”
- Manny Sethi, Tennessee, says he runs nonprofit called Healthy Tennessee and that he’s noticed that people can’t afford rising premiums. “So what they are doing is, effectively, they’re paying the tax penalty because it’s cheaper and works out better than paying for the insurance. That’s been a big problem that we’re seeing across the state.”
- Joel Brown, Tennessee, said he’s in farming and he considered paying the penalty for not carrying insurance. He said there is only one option for coverage, Blue Cross Blue Shield Tennessee and the premium is $540 a month with a $7,000 deductible. “You’ve got to pay a high premium for a plan that I don’t need or don’t want.”
- Robin Armstrong, Texas, said a lot of patients are not adequately covered by Obamacare and are hit with high premiums and deductibles. “I actually read the bill that’s been produced, that’s coming out of the House now and I really like a lot of the changes in it. I think this is going to correct a lot of issues that Obamacare has had.”
- Gina Sell, Wisconsin, said she’s a nurse and mother and had to get a full-time position to pay the costs. “We could not afford a premium of $1,200 per month and a deductible that didn’t cover anything.” She said now the deductible is $6,500 “and so if I have a child who is extremely sick, it’s going to cost me hundreds of dollars.” Last week, she said, her daughter had a fever and she sent her to school for “three days straight because I had to work to afford our insurance” and couldn’t pay for a trip to the doctor. “It has been devastating for our family.”
- Greg Knox, Ohio, began by giving POTUS a note and drawing from his 11-year-old son. The note was written on the back of a cutout face with orangeish hair. “Looks nothing like you,” Knox said to laughter. POTUS flashed a big smile and said, “I wish I looked that good.” Knox said he had meet with Secretary Price and Vice President Pence during a recent roundtable in Cincinnati. “We have the best health care system in the world. We do. But it needs to be fixed. Small business owners like myself — I’m a manufacturer — what we’d like to see is not a government-operated market but a free market.”
- Stan Summers, Utah, said his son was born premature 26 years ago and they had good insurance but it deteriorated over time. Enter the ACA. “I’m not going to call it the other word. I call it the last president’s health care bill. I don’t need to say that name.” (POTUS: “Other than that, you like him a lot.” Laughter.) Summers said he has three businesses and drives a school bus to provide coverage for his family. He said he expects to meet a $6,000 deductible in April.
Secretary Price gave brief remarks about the stories. “This is about real people, about real patients.” He said he was “really excited” to help install a replacement.
POTUS then again bemoaned what he deemed “wonderful press” about Obamacare. “It’s a horrible thing, actually, and getting worse.”
VPOTUS thanked the participants. “These people are emblematic of the Americans that Obamacare has failed.”
Trump Convenes His First Cabinet Meeting
Later, at 3:48 pm, Trump convened the first-ever meeting of his Cabinet, lamenting that, “We have four empty seats, which is a terrible thing.
“Because the Senate Democrats are continuing to obstruct the confirmation of our nominees for the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture, the director of national intelligence and the United States Trade Representative, somebody I want very badly. … The main victim of this very partisan obstruction is the American public.”
POTUS began by giving an update on the approaching storm…
He then touted actions by the nascent administration, including stripping away “job crushing” regulations, and alluded to the coming executive order to “begin the process of reorganizing the executive branch to make it less wasteful and more productive.”
POTUS reiterated his earlier remarks about Obamacare and talked about the replacement plan on Capitol Hill. “It’s a big, fat beautiful negotiation,” he said, drawing snickers. “Hopefully we’ll come up with something that’s going to be really terrific.” He thanked “Paul Ryan” and “Mitch.”
POTUS said he’d be sending a budget request with the major increase in defense spending. “And it will be fully paid for,” POTUS said, Secretary James Mattis on his left. “I saved a lot of money on those jets, didn’t I? Did I do a good job?”
POTUS talked about immigration and enhancing vetting. “We will not rest until the job is done.”
“This is our first Cabinet meeting,” POTUS said. “I hope this is going to be a historic Cabinet meeting, historic in the sense that we’re going to do a fantastic job for the American people, for our country and for the future of our country.”
He did not respond to a request for comment on the “wiretapping.”
A number of officials were on hand, including Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.
HHS Secretary Price ‘Disagrees Strenuously” With CBO Report on GOP Health Care Plan
“We disagree strenuously with the report that was put out,” HHS Secretary Tom Price told reporters at the White House after the CBO score was released on the GOP health care plan.
Price argued that the CBO report looked “at a portion of our plan, but not the entire plan.” He explained that HHS can employ the “regulatory apparatus” to “make certain that patients are helped and that costs are decreased.”
Price said CBO ignored other legislative action.
“We believe that our plan will cover more individuals at a lower cost and give them the choices that they want for the coverage that they want for themselves and their family, not that the government forces them to buy.”
OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said he had not read the entire CBO report but found a bright spot. “The numbers that I’ve seen in the first glance is that CBO says that premiums will go down by at least 10 percent.”
A reporter noted that CBO got to that figure by estimating that fewer older Americans would get coverage but Price waved that away, again saying CBO did not take into account the full plan for repeal and replace. “The fact of the matter is, we’re working on the regulations right now.”
Asked about the report’s finding that 14 million more people would be left without insurance next year, Price said it’s “virtually impossible to have that number occur.”
Reporter: So CBO is wrong, they are not credible?
“Well, you just look at the numbers,” Price said. “There are 8-9 million people who are on the exchange currently. I’m not sure how they are going to get 14 million people uninsured, if that’s what they say, with only 8 million people on the exchange.
“They are individuals, I guess that they assume that are on Medicaid who aren’t paying anything in the Medicaid system who are not going to take the Medicaid policy just because the mandate ended or something happened. It’s just not believable is what we would suggest. We’ll look at the numbers and see.”
Reporter: Without that mandate to buy coverage, wouldn’t you concede there will be millions of uninsured?
“No, I wouldn’t concede that at all,” Price said. “The fact of the matter is they are going to be able to a coverage policy that they want for themselves and for their family. They are going to have the kind of choices that they want. … So we think that CBO simply has it wrong.”
Mulvaney echoed those points, criticizing CBO for assuming Medicaid changes will happen “on day one. It’s just absurd.”