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Jonathan Chait of the New Republic on what he knows of the health care bills.

Friday, October 16, 2009
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HH: Joined now by Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Hello, Jonathan, welcome back.

JC: Hello, thank you.

HH: Why is it like pulling teeth to get you to do this radio show?

JC: You don’t pay me enough.

HH: I don’t pay you anything. I don’t pay anyone anything.

JC: There’s the problem.

HH: E.J. Dionne will do it, Jonathan Alter will do it. What’s up with you?

JC: Well, they make more money than I do.

HH: Well, we’ll complain to the New Republic on your behalf. First, the important stuff. Are you willing to concede that the Wolverines are not even in the same league as the Buckeyes this year?

JC: Yes.

HH: All right, that’s very good. Jonathan, in terms of Rush Limbaugh and the NFL, do you have a comment on that?

JC: No.

HH: None?

JC: I’m not really a fan of either.

HH: But what about the statements that were attributed to him, including the slavery statement, the James Earl Ray statement? Do you believe he actually made those?

JC: I don’t know. I don’t know what those statements are.

HH: Oh, you hadn’t heard them?

JC: No.

HH: Didn’t you follow the controversy at all?

JC: You know, it’s possible that the topic of the ambitions of right wing radio talk show hosts is more important to you than it is to me.

HH: But it’s been fairly ubiquitously covered in the media, hasn’t it?

JC: No, not, well, I don’t know. You know, I know that people with the National Review Online were very interested in the story, and I’m guessing people who follow the NFL, but again, I’m just a college football fan, so…

HH: All right, let’s get to…

JC: But if you want me to comment about Rush Limbaugh, I mean, to get you riled up, and I know you’re clearly trolling, so I’ll try to help you out. You know, I heard these comments he made about this story about some kids who got beat up on a bus a couple of months ago. And what he was doing, in my opinion, was clearly race-baiting. He was clearly trying to racialize an incident that we had no reason to believe, the police have said there’s no reason to believe was racial. There was a fight between some kids. A couple of black kids beat up a couple white kids. But there was no evidence at all that, you know, that this was racial, right? Kids get beat up all the time. I mean, it happened in my school constantly. And he was, you know, and I heard the comments that Limbaugh made at the time, and he was clearly trying to rile up his listeners, this is Obama’s America, Obama’s doing this, and our country, our white children will no longer be safe. And you know, I think if you want to try to, you know, look into his views on race issues, I don’t think you have to make anything up, if you just look at things he says like that.

HH: Did he say in America, white children will no longer be safe?

JC: He said our children.

HH: Did he say white?

JC: Our children. He had a comment where he talked about it, where he said something like you and I. And the context of it was very clearly that he meant you and I are white. I could, if you want, I could try to look up the transcript for you, but it was completely unmistakable.

HH: Yeah, Jon, I would like to see that, because the quotes I’m referring to accused him of endorsing slavery…

JC: Yeah.

HH: …and of advocating the award of the Medal of Honor posthumously of James Earl Ray. You didn’t see either of those?

JC: I’m afraid not.

HH: Because rick Sanchez said it on CNN. It’s been all over MSNBC. I’m glad you’re not watching MSNBC.

JC: I’m not a big fan of MSNBC.

HH: All right, let’s get to other issues. We’ll come back…I’d love the transcript of that…

JC: Right.

HH: …because I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. But I was going to refer to what was in the media. But the New Republic is obviously engaged in the finer print of the health care debate, and that’s what I want to go to.

JC: Right. Well, my caveat is that Jonathan Cohn is our real health care expert.

HH: Aw, come on, Chait. You write about this stuff, talk about it. There is a…

JC: Well, Hugh, He knows this more than me, but yeah.

HH: There are five different bills out there. Let’s use the Baucus bill as sort of the one most likely to pass this month.

JC: Yup.

HH: What does it do to Medicare?

JC: What does it do to Medicare? It takes a lot of money out of Medicare Advantage, which is a program that was created in 2003, that basically tried to do the same thing as Medicare, but for more money, and has been embraced by conservatives, I think largely because it has more profit for the private sector insurance companies, even though it basically does the same thing for more money. And nearly all the health care wonks I’ve ever seen think it’s wasteful.

HH: How much money does it take.

JC: But that’s the biggest in terms of money.

HH: How much money does it take out of Medicare Advantage?

JC: What is it, three or four hundred billion?

HH: That’s a hundred billion swing. Is it three hundred billion? Is it four hundred billion?

JC: Again, I don’t know. Like I said, our real health care wonk is Jonathan Cohn, and I can’t remember how much it is out of Medicare Advantage off the top of my head.

HH: Does it do anything else to Medicare?

JC: Let’s see, trying to remember what else it does to Medicare. There are cuts to Medicare reimbursement to hospitals that are on the basis of you’re getting reimbursed by the government to cover the uninsured, and now there are going to be fewer uninsured, so you should get less money for that.

HH: How much are we talking about there. Got any ballpark?

JC: You don’t know, either?

HH: No.

JC: I think that’s in the range of, that’s under a hundred billion over ten years. I think it’s, my guess would be 70-75 billion, but that’s really kind of a guess.

HH: What happens to doctor reimbursements?

JC: I don’t think they have any change to the law on doctor reimbursements in that bill. Now they do have, the law has kind of long-standing fiction of cutting doctor reimbursements, but that’s not, that’s not, there’s been a lot of mythology about this on the right. There is this kind of fake cut in doctor reimbursements that’s in the law right now, that says we’re going to cut doctor reimbursements in, what, what’s the years, 2011, 2012, by some draconian figure that everyone know is not going to happen. But that’s already in the law. So I’ve seen a lot of conservatives say well, this is part of the way they pay for health care. It’s never going to happen. It’s not, actually, part of the way they pay for health care.

HH: What’s it going to do to benefits for elder on pure Medicare?

JC: It will help fill in the donut hole, which is, you know, up to a certain point, all the expenses, all the drug coverage is covered, and then it’s not covered up to another point, and then everything’s covered up to more…that’s my phrase, so the point in between those two levels where you have to pay is the donut hole. And it helps fill in some of the coverage.

HH: So seniors are better off under this than they would be if it hadn’t passed?

JC: Yeah.

HH: Okay, in terms of all general premiums, what do you think the bill, the Baucus bill generally, is going to do to the average premium of the person who presently has insurance?

JC: It’s a good question. I haven’t seen a good estimate, or even a good attempt to estimate it. There are a lot of factors that push it in different directions. There’s some that push it up, and some that push it down. You could certainly see the bill, you know, again, you’re talking about the Baucus bill as written, right, we’re assuming no changes?

HH: Yeah.

JC: The biggest negative factor here that the insurance companies pointed out, is the very weak requirement of the individual mandate, right? So they had individual mandates, but they said well, we don’t want people upset, so we’ll…

HH: Jonathan, hold that thought. We’ll be right back.

– – – –

HH: Jonathan Chait, thanks for joining me. A couple of quick questions.

JC: Yeah.

HH: So talking last segment, you don’t know the details of this bill. It’s obvious. And I don’t know that anyone does. Why are you for it?

JC: Now wait a minute. I know what’s basically in the bill. What I couldn’t tell you is exactly how much number is attached to, you know, each provision. I can tell you the basic provisions of the bill.

HH: But you don’t know how much it’s going to impact our premiums, and you don’t know what it’s going to do to seniors…

JC: No, right. We don’t know, we don’t know how much it’s going to impact premiums. And like I said, there is a flaw in the bill that I both hope and expect will get strengthened and corrected, which was what I was explaining a moment ago. They had this individual mandate, right, and then they decided well, that’ll upset people, it’ll be too strict, so we’ll weaken that individual mandate. But then, what the insurance companies are saying is hey look, all the young healthy people are just going to stay out of the system until they’re sick, and then that’s going to drive up the premiums for everybody else.

HH: I know that, but…

JC: And I think they’re right about that.

HH: But Jonathan, what astonishes me is so many people say they’re in favor of this, and they don’t have a clue as to what’s in it.

JC: Yeah.

HH: I mean, they have some general outlines, some rhetorical stuff, but in terms of the hard dollars, the actual impact on premiums, the actual cuts to seniors, the actual impact to doctor reimbursements, you’re very typical of a lot of people who are in favor of it. You don’t have any idea.

JC: Well, that’s not true. I do have an idea. I just don’t have the exact specific numbers. You can know what the basic provisions are of the bill, but you can’t say whether it’s 70 or 75 billion, or…

HH: Well, if you don’t know how much health care premiums are going to go up, how can you, I mean, what if they went up 1,000%?

JC: Well, I don’t think there’s any credible analysis that they’re going to go up 1,000%.

HH: How about 100%?

JC: I don’t think that’s credible, either.

HH: Well, there is that Price Waterhouse Coopers study.

JC: Right, which is not credible.

HH: Why isn’t it credible?

JC: And Price Waterhouse Coopers said it’s not credible.

HH: Why is it not credible?

JC: Because they didn’t impact, they didn’t analyze all the factors of the bill. They only analyzed the parts of the bill that the insurance companies don’t like.

HH: And so there’s no chance at all that individual family of four’s premiums are going to double over ten years?

JC: That would be…look, even the analysis that they had, which they admit is wrong, and was designed to create a worse case scenario, didn’t have that.

HH: Yes, it did. It went from $13,000 to $26,000 for a family of four. I read it. It was in there.

JC: Right, right, but compared to what? I mean, what’s the basic level of health care inflation that’s already built into the system?

HH: Did you read it?

JC: Did I read the Price Waterhouse Coopers entire study?

HH: Yeah.

JC: No.

HH: It was only like 20 pages. It wasn’t like War And Peace.

JC: No. But once they admitted that they didn’t really study the entire bill, and weren’t attempting to calculate it, then I didn’t think it was worth…

HH: That’s it. You were standing there by the desk waiting for the insurance industry…hey, one last question, Jonathan.

JC: Okay.

HH: When will New Orleans be fixed? The President’s been president for ten months now. He’s down there today. When’s it going to be fixed?

JC: I couldn’t tell you that.

HH: Has he done anything for New Orleans?

JC: That’s a good…I’ve not followed the New Orleans issue at all.

HH: So to your knowledge, Barack Obama has done nothing for New Orleans?

JC: Well, to the extent that he’s done nothing for any particular city, I think he’s done a lot good for the country as a whole.

HH: Just talking New Orleans. Jonathan, you’ve got to come back more often. We’ve run out of time, and I really like talking to you, Jonathan Chait of the New Republic.

End of interview.

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