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Sen. Hassan On President Trump Ending Obamacare Subsidies

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Trump administration made sharp changes to the Affordable Care Act this week. The president is ending payments to insurers designed to lower premiums for low-income people. Maggie Hassan is a Democratic senator from New Hampshire. She sits on the Committee for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Senator Hassan, thanks so much for being with us.

MAGGIE HASSAN: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: The president has been up and tweeting. He tweeted this morning, quote, "health insurance stocks, which have gone through the roof during the Obamacare years, plunged yesterday after I ended their Dems windfall." But you've called it sabotage - why?

HASSAN: Well, these payments - these so-called cost-sharing reduction payments - are what allow everyday Americans to lower their out-of-pocket costs and their deductibles. By deciding to stop these payments, what the president is doing is really very cruel and intentional, and it will raise health care costs for millions of Americans and - according to the Congressional Budget Office - will also balloon our deficit.

So I've pushed to get Republicans in Congress to act to provide certainty around these payments. It's one of the things we've been focusing on in our bipartisan work on the health committee. I think yesterday three different Republican governors spoke out about the importance of making these payments. We need to keep our word and make sure that we're stabilizing the market so we can get to work on lowering costs and improving the Affordable Care Act.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you what might be not at all a speculative question. Senator Schumer, the minority leader, said yesterday he believes that Congress will fund those payments. But will Democrats vote for a spending bill if it doesn't fund them?

HASSAN: Look, I think it shouldn't take high-stakes deadlines to get Congress to come together and work on stabilizing the market and bringing costs down for the American people. And I think we need to just continue to focus on doing our work.

The American people came forward several times over the course of this summer when the congressional Republicans tried to jam Trumpcare through. And they stood up for the notion that every American should have health insurance coverage and that we need to work together to lower costs and continue to build a better health care system.

And what the president has really done over the last few days, not only with stopping these cost-sharing reduction payments, but also with his executive order that undermines the Affordable Care Act and, again, will drive costs up for worse care, is really ignore the voices of the American people on this. I think it's really critical that congressional Republicans come together and work with us on this.

SIMON: But didn't a lot of people vote for President Trump because the Affordable Care Act, in many ways, even before this election - this past election - was unaffordable for millions of Americans?

HASSAN: What we saw was as the Republicans proposed their version of Trumpcare, no matter what you called it, people began to understand the important components of the Affordable Care Act that they relied on and that had made health insurance available to many people who hadn't had it. You know, Senator Shaheen and I - my senior senator - had an emergency field...

SIMON: Let me interrupt.

HASSAN: ...Hearing. And I'll just say, people told us over and over again that they had pre-existing conditions and they finally got health care.

SIMON: But didn't health care prices and premiums go up for millions of Americans?

HASSAN: We certainly have seen difficulties with the cost, which is why we need to come together and work to do the things that experts have told us. Members of both parties - governors and insurance commissioners - came to our health committee and made recommendations about continuing the cost-sharing reductions, putting together reinsurance pools and a number of other steps we could take to lower costs and get better care. And that's what we should be focused on.

SIMON: Senator Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire, thanks so much for your time this morning, nice to speak to you.

HASSAN: Thank you, take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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