No more status quo for health care

Nancy-Ann DeParle, Counselor to the President and Director of the White House Office of Health Reform.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: It's been, I dunno, maybe three days since we've mentioned the health-care debate on this broadcast. House committees have passed their versions of reform and gone home for the summer. The Senate's about to do the same, go home, that is. It's still not clear what might make get done there by the start of the Senate's recess this Friday. Either way, it's going to be a long hot month of home-state politicking over how, or whether, to change the way almost 20 percent of the American economy works.

Nancy-Ann Deparle runs the White House Office of Health Reform. And I asked her what the president's going to be doing while Congress is at home hearing from constituents.

Nancy-Ann Deparle: The president is going to be spending quite a bit of time talking to the American people and listening to them about health care, as he did during the two years he was campaigning for president. And he heard a lot from them about the fact that they don't have security right now, that they feel like insurance companies make all the decisions, that they don't have a lot of leverage.

Ryssdal: What we are hearing as this whole debate progresses is a lot of negative context. I'm wondering how you and the president can make that a more positive message for yourselves.

DEPARLE: That's a message you're hearing from some people who don't want to change the status quo. And we've been at this for 60 years, trying to do something about our health-care system. And it's not surprising, but there are some out there who are defending the status quo. There aren't as many this time as there were before, because I think everyone realizes with premiums doubling about once a decade, with costs out of control, it's really a burden for families, for businesses and for governments.

Ryssdal: A lot of what they're hearing, though, Nancy, is that the reasons it won't work is because it's too expensive, because you're going to be denied care, because care will be rationed, because you won't be able to pick your doctor. Help us understand how people can individually benefit from what the president is proposing.

DEPARLE: Well, first of all for the vast majority of people who already have health insurance, nothing will change for them. They can keep their doctor, they can keep what they have. Except over time, as some of the reforms and changes that will be instituted will go into place, their costs should go down. Now, in addition they'll have a security that they really don't have today under the current system. Insurance companies won't be able to cherry pick people anymore. They won't be able to say, no, you've had a pre-existing condition so you can't get coverage. There will be preventive care without cost-sharing. They won't be able to drop people once they get seriously ill. Some of the saddest stories that you're hearing, that the president hears, are about people who have been dropped from insurance policies once they become seriously ill.

All of those are very tangible benefits that will be there for all of us who are lucky enough to have insurance, as well as for the people who right now don't have coverage, are in the individual or small-group market, and just find that coverage is unaffordable.

Ryssdal: Do you worry at all that perhaps the White House has lost control of the health-care message out there?

DEPARLE: No, I don't at all. I think we have the best messenger around in President Obama.

Ryssdal: If that's the case then, why isn't there more public support for this?

DEPARLE: Well, you know we've just started really. The president has been talking about this for two years. Remember what he is offering is something that just builds on the current employer-based system. And tries to fix the problems that we have, and doesn't fix what isn't broken. Now we're in the sausage-making, Kai. And so people are looking at three committees in the house, and two committees in the Senate, and who's up and who's down, and which members are voting for it, and what are the blue dogs doing. And all of that tends to confuse people a little bit.

Ryssdal: So can we expect in September if things are still up in the air that we're going to see the president more directly involved in negotiations with Congress?

DEPARLE: Well, I don't know what you'll be seeing, but I've seen a lot of that already. He's probably spending two to three hours a day on this right now, and has been for the last several weeks. He's calling some members of Congress on a daily basis. Today he had all the Senate Democrats here. He's all over health care. Whether you see or not, or whether your listeners see it or not, I can guarantee you that's what is happening. He wants to make sure that they keep moving forward in a direction that will lead to health-care reform being enacted this year, that lowers costs, and gets everybody covered. And we're confident that's what is going to happen.

Ryssdal: Nancy Deparle. She's the director of the White House Office of Health Care Reform. Ms. Deparle, thanks very much for your time.

DEPARLE: Thank you.

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