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PBS "NewsHour" - Transcript

Interview

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we have two takes on the court's judgment from senior members of Congress.

First, we are joined by Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland. He is the Democratic whip in the House. I talked to him this evening.

Congressman Steny Hoyer, thank you for joining us.

REP. STENY HOYER, D-Md.: Good to be with you, Judy. Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does the Supreme Court ruling mean for the country?

REP. STENY HOYER: Well, I think it means that people can have confidence that they are, in fact, going to have access to affordable, quality health care and that we will bring prices down, as CBO has said, over the long run, over a trillion dollars of savings that will be effected, that people will not be precluded from getting insurance because of a preexisting condition, that seniors will be able to get prescription drugs at reduced prices, that young people who are under 26 who can't find a job can stay on their parents' policy, and that people who get really sick won't be told that they have lifetime limits and, gee whiz, your illness is too expensive and we're dropping you from our policy.

So, that and much more, I think, will be beneficial for the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the court did rule that it's constitutional, but, as you know, many Americans -- it's still unpopular with many people. What do you say to Americans who are worried about the costs going up, worried about less choice?

REP. STENY HOYER: Well, actually, their choices I think are going to be expanded, not diminished.

Furthermore, I think their costs will be contained.

I think nobody could say actually that their costs are going to go down, but we know that health care costs have been going up at two, three times inflation. Actually, they have already slowed. We think this action by the Supreme Court will help over the long term.

And CBO, our Congressional Budget Office, nonpartisan office, has said that as well. So we think it's going to help contain costs, make health care more affordable for people, and give access to people who can't afford health insurance. And they will get some help in order to have that insurance and security.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about, though, the Republican argument that employers, that many employers are now going to be incentivized to drop coverage, that it's going to be cheaper for them to take their employees off the rolls, pay the penalty, frankly, leaving people in the lurch with insurance that they can't afford to buy?

REP. STENY HOYER: Well, clearly, we're going to have to make sure that doesn't happen.

And we're going to have to be looking at and talking to employers between now and 2014 to ensure that the program works as expected. And that is that people will be able to keep their insurance, that employers will keep their employees insured, as they are now, and that people won't be losing their insurance.

But if they do lose their insurance, if somebody becomes unemployed, laid off, they will be able to have access to a policy through the exchanges, so that they will have more security, not less.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about, Congressman Hoyer, what the court said in upholding this, but only as a tax? Does that make it harder to sell this to the American people?

REP. STENY HOYER: Well, I think the Republicans have made much of that. They sustained a loss. They were absolutely positive that the bill was unconstitutional. They said so on a regular basis, but the fact of the matter is, the court upheld it, said it was constitutional.

Now, the tax that we're speaking of is a contribution, from my standpoint, to purchasing health insurance, taking personal responsibility for your own health insurance so that others paying their health insurance premium don't have an extra $1,000 on their bill to pay your costs.

It's very much like having to have car insurance when you drive a car to make sure that if you injure somebody through an accident, that you have the ability to compensate that individual for their injury, in this case to make sure that, if you get sick, if you get in an accident, if something happens to you that you need health care that you will have the ways and means to compensate for that health care and have access to affordable, quality care, and not have the reliance on the rest of America to pay your bill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And one other question.

What about in terms of Medicaid, what the court has said about the ability of states frankly to opt out of expanding Medicaid coverage? What about those people whose income level is above poverty level who may not have a choice now of what to do?

REP. STENY HOYER: Judy, we're going to have to -- I haven't read that part of the opinion. As you can imagine, it just came out. And we have been very busy on the floor of the House, so I haven't read that portion of it

But clearly one of our efforts was to make sure that everybody did have access to insurance, particularly those who could not afford it, the poor. And so we're going to have to look at that to make sure that we don't have people who are poor who can't afford insurance don't fall through the cracks.

So I can't say specifically because I haven't read that portion of the opinion. But, clearly, we're going address that and make sure that people are protected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As you know, Republicans are saying they are going to continue to try to repeal this. They have called for a vote in the House in the middle of July. And they say, if they can't do it under this president, they will do it under a President Romney.

REP. STENY HOYER: Well, of course, President Romney proposed a program almost exactly like the program that the Supreme Court said was constitutional.

So it's a little ironic that a program that was almost exactly like the one President Obama proposed was proposed by Governor Romney, that he would say it was -- what was good for Massachusetts wasn't good for the nation.

In fact, as Governor Deval Patrick said this morning, they have wide coverage now. Almost everybody in Massachusetts does have insurance and availability of quality, affordable health care. The Republicans have been very quick to say, A., this is unconstitutional, B., we want to repeal it, but very, very slow -- and, in fact, have not offered an alternative to make sure that people have access to affordable, quality health care.

And I think that's going to be their challenge. And it's very easy to say we don't like what you have proposed, but much, much more difficult to come up with a proposal that will work.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will leave it there. Congressman Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, thank you very much.

REP. STENY HOYER: Thank you, Judy.

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