An Honest-To-God Honest Democrat: Houston Democrat Congressman Gene Green On The Continued Obamacare Problems
Read this interview. There is growing recognition among old-school Democrats that the disaster of Obamacare is much, much bigger than they had ever dreamed:
HH: I’m so pleased to welcome to the program Congressman Gene Green of Texas’ 29th District. Congressman Green is a Democrat, he is a centrist, he has represented the 29th District in Houston, all my friends listening on KNTH 1070, for twenty years. Congressman, welcome. I very much appreciate you coming on to talk to me about the Affordable Care Act.
GG: Glad to, and thank you for inviting me. I look forward to it. I have a very urban district in Houston, so the Affordable Care Act was an effort to provide a plurality of my constituents who work, who don’t have insurance through their employer. And it’s frustrating what’s happening.
HH: Now Congressman, millions of Americans are getting cancellation letters from their insurers. Do you have any idea how many that’s going to total by the end of the year?
GG: Well, I haven’t heard. I have heard some cases in our district, because I return phone calls to my constituents. But we work through them, because if those plans were in effect on the effective date of the act, then they shouldn’t have been involved. What sounds like it is, what I’m hearing from the Health and Human Services, and we’ll find out tomorrow from the Secretary directly, because I’m on Energy and Commerce Committee and she’s going to testify, is why are they losing their insurance, because the President said, and all of us were told, if you like what you have, then you can keep it. But there seems to be an issue that maybe some of those plans changed and were not grandfathered in. They were changed after the act.
HH: Yeah, that’s what in fact, a least a million and a half thus far, and I’ve seen estimates of more than ten million Americans will lose their insurance. Many of them will simply not be covered come January 1, Congressman. What’s going to happen to them if they get sick or they get hit by a bus or something?
GG: Well, I would hope that if we have that problem, and with those numbers, that Congress would step in and deal with it. because I would hope that the goal of the Affordable Care Act was to expand access, driving sectors, businesses. It’s not government insurance any more than the state of Texas, who regulated insurance policies have it. So we need to fix it, because that is just outrageous to have those folks…the goal is to cover people who work and don’t have insurance through their employer. And in my district, it’s about 42%.
HH: As Senator Baucus said, this is a train wreck, and it’s happening. It’s very urgent. These people who are losing their insurance, and who get sick in early January, they’re going to lose everything. They’re going to be bankrupted. And I’m curious in your conference, has Leader Pelosi stepped up and said you know, we’ve got to get something done here?
GG: Well, we’re to that level now, although I have to admit, we haven’t had that. But Senator Baucus said it was a train wreck months ago where it was. And Senator Baucus actually helped draft the bill that came from the Senate to the House that we accepted. And in hindsight, we should have sent it to a conference committee, and fixed some of the things the Senate did in there.
HH: Well, would you agree that it’s more than a website failure, it’s actually a systems failure at this point?
GG: Well, it sounds like it’s a system failure, but I’m frustrated, because you know, I voted for it, I’ve supported expansion of access for my whole career, because of the nature of the area that I represent. And to see this effort literally fall by the wayside, it’s a travesty if that happens if those people lose their insurance. My goal is to cover people, not to make people lose their insurance. And I hope that’s the same one as the President has.
HH: Given whatever your goal is, and I know you’re completely sincere about that. I studied up on you on your goal, and I’m glad you would come onto a conservative talk show to talk about it. But it doesn’t seem to me like the reality has set in with the President or with the leader, and certainly not with Harry Reid, that this is an urgent, this is a catastrophe, isn’t it?
GG: Well, it looks like it could be, but there’s time to avert it. If they can get the computer system set up, and I’m not to that level of technology, but I would, it seems like they could get it done by the end of the month. And really, that’s too long. And I think what you’re going to see is either the administration or the Congress needs to extend the ability if you, if it was supposed to be up on October 1st, and it’s not up until December 1st, then we need to add at least two months for folks to be able to comply and be able to shop around for what they can get. And once it works, it’s got to be working, though.
HH: But Congressman Green, that’s not actually the problem. The website isn’t the problem. The problem is people are going to be without insurance on January 1, and some of them are going to get sick or in car accidents or their children, and they’re going to be wiped out as of January 1. You know what a week’s medical bills are like.
GG: Oh, I know, and you know, again, my problem is in our district, historically, we have a huge number of people who work and don’t have insurance through their employer, so they can’t afford the individual market. So I don’t want to expand that number. I want to contract it. And so that’s why the Congress needs to, if it can’t be fixed, in fact, Congress starting tomorrow needs to decide okay, are we really going to have another vote to repeal it and defund it? Or are we actually going to go in and say okay, let’s fix this thing so it’ll cover whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, rural or urban, and so you have those options that all Americans should have.
HH: Are you going to press the Secretary tomorrow, because she’s been filibustering. And today, the woman who came up, Marilyn Tavenner from the Center For Medicare and Medicaid, she filibustered. Are you going to let them get away with just mindless nattering on?
GG: Well, as you know, particularly in the House, although the Senate doesn’t have that, but in the House, we get five minutes. And I have had witnesses who will answer one question and take the whole five minutes and my question only took 30 seconds. Having been around a while, I don’t mind interrupting anyone, including the secretary of whatever agency, to say I only have five minutes and I need an answer. Some things can’t explain by yes and no, but I want as close as you can get to a yes or no on an answer. And that’s what we need to do.
HH: Good, I hope you do. Now do you trust the security of the data that people are giving to these websites?
GG: Well, with the problems we’ve had, I trusted it going in, because we had a hearing last month that the four contractors who were there last week at our committee who said everything was fine, we’re going to roll out well, and here we are a month later last week, and we heard them, oh, it’s not us, and it was just a lot of finger pointing and trying to share the blame, or blame someone else. But the bottom line is that it’s the federal government than hired these contractors, and if they’re not doing the job, let’s get rid of them and get somebody who can.
HH: But would you advise.
GG: And don’t pay them. Don’t pay them for something that doesn’t work.
HH: But would you advise a family member, someone that you knew or loved, to put data onto these websites of their Social Security number and their address and stuff like that?
GG: Well, you and I, you know, in this day and time, we have to do that, although we’re getting ready to try and roll out and help people fill out the paperwork, but they’re telling us we have to do paperwork. We can’t go on the internet. So we’re going to go back to helping people fill out an application. And for federal insurance, I don’t think we’ve had to fill out applications since Medicare was rolled out in 1965 of ’66.
HH: So this is a total fiasco. How much do you blame the President?
GG: Well, you and I know, you know, the CEO of a company, and I assume that’s what the President would be, that that person may not know everything going on, but as Harry Truman said, the buck stops here. And the President needs to get it fixed. Last week, he sounded pretty good. But we need to get it fixed as quick as we can, because as you said, people are going to be looking for insurance on January 1st, particularly the ones who have lost coverage. And I think our committee ought to look at that and see okay, well, find out why these people have lost their coverage when they were supposed to be able to keep it.
HH: Well, whatever it is, that’s the case. But do you think he ought to fire Sebelius?
GG: Well, you know, you always look at who’s responsible. And I think everything has to be on the table.
HH: But would you welcome that move, Congressman?
GG: Well, I don’t know that just firing her would be any good. I want to go down to the folks who created this non-workable system to begin with. And whether it’s through her or through somebody else, we need to get it fixed.
HH: Do you have confidence in her, though?
GG: Well, I’ve met with her. I’ve known here, you know, since she’s been Health and Human Services secretary. I’ve worked with her on issues affecting the Houston area. So I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt, but you know, everybody’s patience is wearing thin.
HH: Why would you give her, I’m sincere about this. When millions of people are losing their insurance or exposed to bankruptcy and catastrophic ruin, why would you give her the time of day, much less the benefit of the doubt?
GG: Well, because I know her experience both in Kansas as a governor, but also as an insurance regulator. I would hope that she would take that experience and use it. And again, I can’t say that she’s the one who actually approved whoever’s doing, whoever signed the contract, but somewhere along that chain of command needs to be answerable for it.
HH: Here’s what…
GG: And it may be her, ultimately.
HH: Clarence Page, who’s a liberal, Pulitzer Prize winner, was on my show yesterday. Here’s what he said about the President.
HH: He knew he was lying?
CP: Probably. Probably. But that’s one of those political lies.
HH: Clarence Page said the President was lying. Do you think he was lying, Congressman?
GG: Well, I don’t think the President was laying, but you know, I also know that the system’s broken and it needs to be fixed. And whether the President or someone else needs to get into it. Of course, they don’t want to call me, because I still have trouble using my Blackberry. But there are people who are smart enough to deal with this.
HH: Last question…
GG: Now one of the things I asked some computer people about it who work with NASA, and they told me, they said you know the problem is the federal procurement system for computers is so broken, y’all have spent hundreds of millions of dollars at different agencies, whether it be with the IRS or different agencies and still not come up with a working computer system, because the federal procurement system is just not designed to do something this big.
HH: Congressman, I would love to keep talking to you. I don’t know if you’re free or not, but we’ll go to break. Congressman Gene Green of the 29th District of Texas, good Democrat talking to me on talk radio.
End of interview.