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Sen. Maggie Hassan Talks On The Future Of Health Care

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump is vowing that any Republican who votes against the latest attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act will be known as the Republican who saved Obamacare. And that's what Democrats are looking for - Republicans to save Obamacare both by voting against this new bill and by agreeing to bipartisan fixes to the ACA. New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan sits on the Senate health committee, and she joins us on the line now. Welcome, senator.

MAGGIE HASSAN: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: First, I just want to catch up on where Republicans stand now on shoring up support for this latest bill. It's called Graham-Cassidy. And this afternoon, Republican John McCain of Arizona announced he would not support it. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said he's a no. That leaves 50 Republicans left. Who else are you hoping to see peel off?

HASSAN: Well, first of all, I'm just really grateful to John McCain for his leadership. What he expressed in his statement was how important health care is for every single American and to about a sixth of our economy. So it's really critical that as we go about looking to stabilize our health insurance markets, lower costs for Americans and businesses in health care and improve outcomes that we do it carefully, in a bipartisan way. And that's really what a number of us are committed to.

We obviously know that there are still some unknowns out there on the Graham-Cassidy bill. I am hopeful that other of my Republican colleagues will join senators McCain and Paul and really get us back to the process that we have been engaged in - bipartisan talks involving experts and leaders from both parties, from many different perspectives - so that we can really make sure that what we do in terms of policy doesn't hurt real people. It's really important for us to understand how things really work on the ground.

CHANG: You know, even though - if Graham-Cassidy does fail, there still is another challenge ahead because there does need to be some legislative fixes to Obamacare. What are you willing to put on the table as possible fixes to strike a deal with Republicans?

HASSAN: Well, we - a number of us have been talking about the need to improve the Affordable Care Act and address certain weaknesses in it. The first thing...

CHANG: Like what?

HASSAN: Well, we've heard from experts and we all agree that we need to really commit to making those cost-sharing reduction payments that people may have heard about. That's really a way to make sure that people who are buying insurance on the exchange can afford their out-of-pocket costs and their deductibles. There's general consensus that we should be helping states with reinsurance programs so that we're helping with the most expensive health care cases, people who have really serious illnesses that drive the cost of premiums and a plan up for everybody.

And then I'm also on a bill that would address what's known as the income cliff in the Affordable Care Act, which would make the tax credits for premiums more available to more families. And those are the types of things that we've all been hearing testimony about and talking about. It's the type of things a bipartisan group of governors have proposed as well.

CHANG: But I just want to take a - I just want a reality check. I mean, how possible is meaningful bipartisanship on this? Because on the very same day that senators Graham and Cassidy introduced their bill, almost a third of the Senate Democrats stood behind Bernie Sanders as he reintroduced Medicare for All, which obviously is a far more liberal idea than Obamacare ever was. So are the two parties just veering too far apart to find common ground on this?

HASSAN: Well, certainly every senator is free to introduce legislation that is important to them and that represents what they think we should do on something. But what I think is important is that you saw on our health committee over the last four weeks or so real bipartisan discussion in progress about how to stabilize the Affordable Care Act and how to improve outcomes, lower costs. One of the other things that I think we can find common ground on is how we lower the cost of prescription drugs, which are really squeezing a lot of families right now.

So overall, there is extraordinary common ground when you think about what the bipartisan group of governors have come forward with. And you also see enormous bipartisan opposition to Graham-Cassidy right now. I mean, 50 state Medicaid directors have expressed their opposition to it from red and blue states. So again - again, this is a...

CHANG: But on the fixes - you think that will be an easy lift on the fixes, the bipartisan fixes?

HASSAN: I think that whenever you have to actually get into policy nitty-gritty that affects every single American it is always a lot of work. But that's what we're elected to do. We have seen really good progress with Chairman Alexander and ranking member Murray, and I think we can do it.

CHANG: All right. Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, thank you very much for joining us.

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

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