Transcript: Health Law Repeal Efforts To Gain Steam, Others Stand Against It

Republican efforts to repeal the health overhaul law will be a central focus for the party when the 112th Congress convenes in January, while Democrats will fight repeal or any significant changes to the measure. Kaiser Health News recently interviewed two lawmakers – Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Tex., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to get their take on how the health care debate may play out in the months ahead. Burgess is pushing for a complete repeal of the health law while Wyden is hoping for bipartisan support of legislation to give states more flexibility as they implement the measure.


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JACKIE JUDD: Good day. This is Health on the Hill. I’m Jackie Judd. In the New Year, Congress will have a very different makeup – the House, of course, will be controlled by Republicans and the Senate will have a larger number of Republicans while still in the minority. So, what might this mean for the health care overhaul law? Here to give us a preview, Mary Agnes Carey and Marilyn Werber Serafini, both of Kaiser Health News. Welcome. You both interviewed two lawmakers – one Democrat, one Republican. What they have in common is they want to see significant changes to the healthcare law. In one case, an outright repeal. That’s Congressman Michael Burgess, a Republican from Texas, also a physician. What did he tell you?

MARILYN WERBER SERAFINI: Well, he does want to repeal this. He’d like the first order of business, when Congress reconvenes in January, to have a vote on repeal; have each member called on, “Are you for it? Are you against it?” Short of that, what he really wants to do is to make life miserable for supporters of this bill. His ultimate goal is repeal. He sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is one of the committees in the House with primary jurisdiction over health care, and he wants to call up administration officials, put them through the ringer on unpopular provisions. He’s all for doing everything he can to make the law look bad.

JACKIE JUDD: And does he have the backing of the Republican leadership to move as quickly as he would like to see? That is, to move on this in January?

MARY AGNES CAREY: One thing he said to us was that if he ran the show, he would have the repeal vote that Marilyn’s talking about, the afternoon before the President does his State of the Union address. Party leaders may not go along with that but they have talked extensively about wanting to go after the health reform law immediately. So I think you’re going to see quick action when Congress comes back.

JACKIE JUDD: And the presumption is that a repeal vote would pass in the House but not the Senate. So in the House what would be the more piecemeal approach that the Republicans are looking at?

MARILYN WERBER SERAFINI: We’re talking about a lot of oversight, a lot of heavy negative oversight. Beyond that, we could be talking about hearings trying to attack certain provisions in the bill, for instance, the individual mandate. We could be talking about Republicans trying to defund different pieces of the law or simply trying to slow down the implementation.

JACKIE JUDD: And he talked about one tactic being to attach some of these piece parts to pieces of legislation that have popular political support.

MARILYN WERBER SERAFINI: Right. The idea being that if you attach it to something popular then it goes over to the Senate and the Senate can’t say no to whatever the popular element is. Then they’re stuck and they’ll have to pass it. Other people would say, well, the Senate can just pluck off the piece they don’t like, send the bill back to the House that way, so it turns the table back on the House. I’m not sure how successful that would be.

JACKIE JUDD: We’re in the Senate now. You two both interviewed Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, who has his own ideas. What did he tell you?

MARY AGNES CAREY: What he’s looking at, he has a provision he inserted in the health law that would give states the ability to get a waiver from some requirements of the health law, including individual mandate, if they meet certain criteria. Right now the waiver potential starts in 2017. He’d like to move that up to 2014 and he has a Republican co-sponsor. He’s got Scott Brown from Massachusetts on that bill.

JACKIE JUDD: How disruptive would that kind of idea be to the overhaul law and what kind of support, at this moment anyway, does Wyden have for that?

MARY AGNES CAREY: Right now it’s just in its infancy of support, if you will, but he was explaining to us how he really thinks governors are going to be the main fire power behind making this happen because governors will say, I want to do this my way. I understand there’s a federal law and I have to meet certain requirements. And the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the ultimate say whether or not a state gets a waiver. So he’s really looking beyond Washington to the states to have governors come and make their case to get this waiver moved up for three years.

JACKIE JUDD: Health care reform occupied much of Congress’ time this year. Is there time in the calendar in 2011 to devote as much time?

MARY AGNES CAREY: Not so much. You’ve the economy, jobs. Everyone, even the most adamant opposition to the health law tells you they’ve got to focus on the economy. They’ve got to focus on jobs. But this health reform law is a big priority for Republicans. They want to attack it vigorously and I think they’ll make time on the calendar for that.

MARILYN WERBER SERAFINI: Especially since the Presidential election in 2012 is not very far away. So while you’re going to have, I agree with Mary Agnes, the first priority is going to be the economy and jobs. This is going to be right underneath it and the Republicans are going to be very persistent.

JACKIE JUDD: Okay. Thank you both very much.

MARILYN WERBER SERAFINI: Thank you.

JACKIE JUDD: Appreciate it.

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