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As Deadline Looms For GOP Health Care Push, Colorado Governor Talks Own Bipartisan Plan


Let's talk more about the subject we just raised, which happens to be one of this country's most pressing policy debates. That is, how to provide health care for Americans at a cost they and the country can afford. Now, President Trump and most congressional Republicans have been adamant about overturning the Obama administration's solution to this problem - the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

But the GOP's latest proposal to do that called Graham-Cassidy has ignited fierce opposition from Democrats, most major health interest groups and even some Republicans. We're going to hear from someone who supports the GOP approach in a few minutes. But first, we're going to hear from one of the Democratic opponents - John Hickenlooper. He is the governor of Colorado. Governor Hickenlooper, thank you so much for speaking with us.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: No. You bet, Michel. Glad to be on.

MARTIN: Now, I understand that there is a wide range of things that you object to in this bill, but if you could summarize your major concerns.

HICKENLOOPER: By shifting the costs, you don't have the resources and, therefore, you can't take responsibility. That's the biggest issue I think that most of us feel. But we also - I think there's something to be said for process. I think governors who have to implement this - these health care programs, we should be at the table just as kind of providing our - what we've experienced.

And then we look at, you know, the - well, if we did Graham-Cassidy, here's how many - in Colorado, it would be 300,000 people would probably be without coverage. Nationally, it would start out with 15 to 18 million without coverage and eventually get up to - some people say as high as 32 million people would lose coverage. That's not strengthening our health care system.

MARTIN: But on the process point, I do recognize that last month, you along with Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is a Republican, talked about a bipartisan plan to stabilize the Affordable Care Act. What would that do?

HICKENLOOPER: What we looked at was how to just - we're just going to focus on the private markets. And we wanted to make sure that we provided some stability. So the CSRs - the cost sharing reductions, which are the incentives that allow more people to be able to afford health insurance, we want to make sure they maintain those at least through 2019.

And then we also wanted to figure out some sort of a reinsurance program that helps states deal with the most expensive medical cases - the people that have severe illnesses and maybe spend four or five, even $6 million a year.

You know, if you're not careful, that drives up everyone's rates and then people drop off of insurance. Basically, we're just looking at that narrow focus of making sure those private markets are stabilized.

MARTIN: Supporters of the Graham-Cassidy bill, the latest GOP plan, argue that one of its strengths is that it will give more power to the states.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, it gives more flexibility. And I embrace that. I mean, that's - part of that's got to be the next step. We have states - Massachusetts, Colorado, I think, is a good example, Oregon, Ohio - who really had begun to get our arms around controlling costs.

We agree - every governor, Republic and Democrat, recognize that we're spending too much money on health care. And we are going to need some flexibility. That being said - and flexibility but with guardrails, right? I want to make sure people recognize that I'm not saying, you know, every state gets to write their own definition of what insurance has to be.

But beyond that, if we have the flexibility to try some of these innovative programs, I think we can begin to control costs.

MARTIN: Do you think a bipartisan compromise is harder now or easier now as a result of what's been happening?

HICKENLOOPER: No. I think the table is set for some good bipartisan work. I think we're ready. You know, (laughter) the time - if it's not time now, when is it going to be time, right? (Laughter).

MARTIN: That's Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Governor, thanks so much for speaking with us.

HICKENLOOPER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.