CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Affordable Care Act Implementation and Arctic Drilling

Interview

By:  Mark Begich
Date: Nov. 14, 2013
Location: Unknown

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BERMAN: He said fumbled repeatedly in the first fix he offered for these repeated fumbles, potential relief for some of the millions of Americans who have lost their insurance because either their plans expired or their new policies did not meet Obamacare's minimum standards. He said he would allow insurers to extend those noncompliant policies for one year, but they'd have to alert their customers to potentially better options under Obamacare, under the exchanges. That this would apply to people who have those policies now or who had them before. State insurance commissioners would have to -- have the right to override the administrative changes, however, so it's not guarantee that they'd go into place.

The political context here is this, some of the president's fellow Democrats, Democrats, members of his own party, have been threatening to vote tomorrow for a Republican plan they say they don't even like because it would restore those canceled insurance policies.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Senator Mark Begich of Alaska. He is a Democrat. He is up for re-election and it could be a tough fight.

Senator Begich, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it. You have been supportive of a Democratic plan, or at least a plan being offed by Democrats in the Senate, to put in place legislative fixes to this problem of people losing their insurance. Will you support tabling that now? Is the president's administrative list of changes enough for you?

SEN. MARK BEGICH (D), ALASKA: Well, let me first say, you know, since the plan passed, I've always said this plan wasn't perfect and we need to continue to work to make fixes, as I've done already in the last few years. But I will say the plan that Senator Udall and Shaheen, I'm a sponsor on it. I think we need to go forward with the legislative fix. I understand basic parts of the administrative fix. I want to see more of the details. But I think at the end of the day, we've got to do a legislative fix. This insures that people who had a plan before October 1st can keep the plan they had, as well as insure those benefits that we made sure passed, for example, women treated equally like men with their insurance premiums, children get pre-existing conditions that they had are covered, making sure seniors get the, you know, the doughnut hole filled, as well as kids who want to stay on the plan their parents have until age 26.

So, I think we still have to move forward on the legislative plan. That's my intention. I recognize the president is trying to fix a piece of it, but that's only administratively and we want to make sure it's clear to the American people and to Alaskans, the 4,000 Alaskans that have had cancellation notices, that they can keep the plan.

BERMAN: To be clear, you're saying what the president is suggesting is not enough. You want more than that. Let me ask you another question, because the president talked about -

BEGICH: Well, if I can -

BERMAN: Go ahead.

BEGICH: I was going to say, his plan, as you know, is only as far as I can see, only a year long. And I think, again, I think it's not enough, but it's a step.

BERMAN: You want it forever.

Let's talk about the website now, healthcare.gov, because there's been a lot of problems there. The president acknowledged it's been a rough rollout to say the least.

BEGICH: Yes.

BERMAN: That was one of the fumbles that he talked about. And he was asked directly whether he had been informed in advance that there would be problems with the site. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was not informed directly that the website would not be working as -- the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn't be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: This seems like a pretty big failure of communication for a White House. So is just saying sorry, I didn't know, enough now or do you think there have to be consequences? In other words, do heads have to roll?

BEGICH: You know, it's interesting, it's like that movie with Paul Newman, "it's a failure to communicate." You know, it's an amazing problem they had on this rollout. I went on October 1st because I knew - I felt it, that it was not going to roll out properly. I had been on that site twice a day trying to get information and being an applicant, going through the process. But I will say, the last week, as you may know, that I got on the site. I've applied. I've enrolled in Alaska. I don't take a government subsidy for my enrollment. But, you know, people need to be held accountable. It was disappointing and poorly rolled out. I went on it every couple days, sending notices to the White House of what I considered significant problems with the website. I was kind of like the beta tester senator. So I hear what you're saying.

BERMAN: Well, sir, were they listening?

BEGICH: I do think so.

BERMAN: You say people need to be accountable.

BEGICH: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Do heads need to roll?

BEGICH: I think at the -- as we get through this, I think the president has to look at his team of folks and determine, you know, how and what he's going to do to hold folks accountable for what I don't think was a very good rollout. But I'll leave that to the administration to make that decision because my goal right now is to make sure Alaskans can access the website as efficiently as possible. I got on it on Monday. Yesterday, one of our big - not providers, but people out there selling plans on the marketplace have now re-entered because many of the glitches have been solved for their ability to get people onto the marketplace.

And keep in mind, the only reason you go to the marketplace for folks that want to get a subsidy, you can still buy insurance from your broker, from anyone else. That's not a problem. So - but, you know, someone should be held accountable, but I'll leave that to the president to make that decision. But I got on, enrolled. I'm paying 100 percent of my premium. I'm with Alaskans, but frustrated like the rest of them.

BERMAN: Sir, there is the policy impact here and a lot of people deal with health insurance every day and this affects millions and millions of Americans very, very directly. But there are also political implications. You are running for re-election in Alaska. May not be an very easy race up there. The president discussed the political implications for members of Congress like you and acknowledged that he has made things more difficult. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no doubt that our failure to roll out the ACA smoothly has put a burden on Democrats, whether they're running or not, because they stood up and supported this -- this effort through thick and thin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: How big a burden has he put on you, sir? And are you willing to say right now, apology accepted?

BEGICH: Well, I wouldn't say, you know, everything I work on here, Alaskans, at the end of the day, as every race I've ever run in, will judge me on the broader picture. They'll look at health care. They'll look at me saving the Air Force base, Eielson Air Force Base, and F- 16s. They are looking at what I did to open up the Arctic for oil and gas development. They'll judge the whole picture.

But my goal right now is, I've got a lot of Alaskans that want to get health care. Let me give you one statistic. Before this policy came into place, individual market insurers, 34 percent of the Alaskans who applied to the individual market were denied health care. Today that number is zero. But we need to make it smooth, get them through the process, make sure they have affordable and competitive insurance pool they can draw from. That's my goal. And the public will judge that a year from now in the election and I will stand on the record of many issues that I've worked on for Alaskans.

BERMAN: If the president offered to come to Alaska to campaign for you, would you accept the offer?

BEGICH: He's been to Alaska a couple times as he passed through on the way to Asia. So, you know, I - people, at the end of the day, they'll elect me based on what I'm doing, what I've been representing Alaska. I was born and raised in Alaska. People know me. No matter where I go, they want to know what Mark Begich is doing to help Alaska move forward on the tough issue we have. That's what I'll be campaigning on. That's what my focus will be.

BERMAN: Is he helpful, though, to your re-election and would his presence be helpful to you?

BEGICH: I think anyone who banks on any politician coming to the state is not working on what they need to do. I focus on what people want me to campaign on. They're looking at what I'm doing back here. If the president wants to come up there, that's his decision. But you know what, if he comes up there, I'm going to take him up to the Arctic. I'm going to show him ANWR (ph). I'm going to tell him why we need to drill in ANWR. Change his mind on that, if I can. Bang him over the heads a few times on it. So, if he wants to come and see what I need to show him, what he needs to change his position on, I'm happy to do it.

BERMAN: It seems like a dream trip for the president. Not sure this is going to happen, but -

BEGICH: I think -

BERMAN: Go ahead.

BEGICH: Maybe I'll take him up in the winter time and maybe show him a little bit of ANWR and then he'll have maybe a different opinion about we need to drill in ANWR and do it right.

BERMAN: All right, Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, we really appreciate your time and talking to us. Thank you so much.

BEGICH: Thank you. Have a great day.

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