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Senate Made Health Care Even More Heartless, Sen. Hassan Says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now that the bill is out, we are examining just how the Senate Republicans want to change the American health care system. Here's President Trump talking about that bill this morning on "Fox & Friends."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What's interesting is I've been here for only five months. People say, where is the health care? Where's the health care? Well, I've done in five months what other people haven't done in years. And it's been - people have worked on health care for many years. It's a very complicated situation from the standpoint - you do something that's good for one group but bad for another.

MARTIN: The House passed a health care bill last month without a single vote from a Democrat. Yesterday, it was the Senate Republicans' turn to release theirs. And they appear not to have the votes to pass it yet without the help of Democrats. Four Republican senators have said they won't pass it in its current form. Here's Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader on the floor of the Senate, introducing what is called The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: I regret that our Democratic friends made clear early on that they did not want to work with us in a serious, bipartisan way to address the Obamacare status quo. But Republicans believe we have a responsibility to act. And we are - for our constituents, for our states and for our country.

MARTIN: So are Democrats likely to get on board? Sen. Maggie Hassan is a Democrat from New Hampshire. She joins us on the line. Senator, welcome to the program.

MAGGIE HASSAN: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: You heard Senator McConnell there mention working with Democrats. Now that you have had a chance to read the bill is it a good starting point for negotiations?

HASSAN: Look, that is - Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has taken what President Trump called - was a mean health care bill and made it even more heartless. Under the Trumpcare bill from the Senate, if you buy your own insurance, you have to pay more for your coverage. You could face an age tax, which would be especially harmful if you're between the ages of 50 and 64.

And you could see states undermine the requirement that insurance companies have to cover the most important services. The Senate bill also ends Medicaid expansion and makes even deeper cuts to the Medicaid program than the House bill. That means that tens of thousands of Granite Staters - including children, people struggling with addiction, seniors in nursing or homes or who have at-home care and people who experience disabilities - will be negatively impacted.

And Trumpcare also defunds Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, this is a really partisan bill that doesn't help us get towards the goal of improving the health care system we have. And Democrats, certainly, stand ready to do that. I'm on about three different bills that would help us improve our health care system and lower its cost for folks. But the Republican bill that we saw yesterday is not the foundation for doing that.

MARTIN: So where is the compromise, though? Because we heard from Congressman Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania, on this program this morning. He voted against the House version of this bill. He still has concerns over the new Senate version, especially on the Medicaid cuts.

But he says there is room for compromise - that he has been meeting with Democrats on the House side to try to find common ground. Are there moderates like that in the Senate that you should be working with right now?

HASSAN: Well, look, what we have seen from the Senate is this incredibly secretive process - 13 men behind closed doors. Senate Democrats have asked for hearings on this bill. I'm on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, known as HELP.

The Democrats were in a hearing a couple of weeks ago which was about prescription drug prices, something we all need - know we need to work on. And we need to lower those. We asked for a meeting and a hearing on revisions to the Affordable Care Act, improvements we need to make, ways to stabilize our markets. And we were told there would be no meeting and no joint hearings.

So I am on bills with other senators to create a reinsurance program that would improve the healthcare marketplace and lower premiums. I've helped introduce another bill to eliminate the cliff that blocks many middle-class individuals from receiving premium assistance under the current law. And to build on the Affordable Care Act, I've helped introduce legislation...

MARTIN: So you're saying...

HASSAN: ...To take on Big Pharma and bring down prescription-drug prices.

MARTIN: You're saying you're trying to pass bills that would address some of the problems with Obamacare?

HASSAN: Absolutely. And we would welcome participation from our Republican colleagues. But what we've seen right now is, you know, this secretive process, which really reflects that the Republicans in the Senate know this is a deeply unpopular bill.

And it appears that this bill is really taking away health care from people who need it - not helping people with the price of health care - so that the wealthiest Americans can get significant tax breaks. And that's just not what we should be doing.

We should be focused on how to stabilize the markets that we have, improve the system we have, lower costs for people and make sure that we have a better health care system, especially when we are faced with public health crises like our heroin and opioid epidemic in New Hampshire and throughout the country. Sen. Shaheen and I are having an emergency field hearing about this bill this afternoon in Concord, N.H., at 2 o'clock at the UNH Law School.

MARTIN: Yeah.

HASSAN: We welcome people to come there. It's really important that...

MARTIN: Senator, we'll have to...

HASSAN: ...Americans speak up about this bill.

MARTIN: Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire. Thank you so much.

HASSAN: Thank you. Take care.

MARTIN: NPR health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak is in the studio. She just heard that. What stood out to you, Alison?

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Well, what stood out to me is that she talks about the need to repair Obamacare. But what has happened is that Democrats also said they will not work with Republicans if the word repeal is still in there. So they - while it's true the Democrats have offered up ideas, they aren't willing to talk when the word repeal is on the table. And Republicans, who have been campaigning on repeal, are still working on what they call repeal.

MARTIN: NPR health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak, thank you so much.

ALLISON KODJAK: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.