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Special Report

Center Seat: Rep. Tom Price on his alternative to ObamaCare

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 11, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: We are back with our panel, and we're joined in our Center Seat by Georgia Republican Congressman Tom Price, who is also a doctor -- orthopedic surgeon. Congressman Price, thanks for being here.

REP. TOM PRICE, R - GA: Thanks, Bret. Good to be with you.

BAIER: You have an alternative to ObamaCare called "Empowering Patients First Act," HR-2300. You have introduced it in three congresses now. Give us the 30 second elevated pitch, if you would.

PRICE: The bottom line is we can solve any health care challenges that we have by putting patients and families and doctors in charge of health care, not Washington, D.C. We do that in our bill, HR-2300, Empowering Patients First Act, by making certain that folks, everybody in this country, every single American has the financial feasibility to purchase coverage that they want, not that the government forces them to by. We do that through tax deductions, and credits and refundable credits and advance-able refundable credits.

We solve portability problems. You ought not lose your insurance if you change your job or you lose your job. You ought to be able to own your coverage regardless of who is paying for it.

We solve preexisting illness by making it so that individuals in that individual and small group market can pool together and get the purchasing power of millions so nobody's health status makes any difference to the cost of their health coverage. We can do all of that, that is cover folks, solve insurance challenges, and save hundreds of billions of without putting Washington in charge or raising your taxes.

BAIER: So it is across state lines.

PRICE: Purchase across state lines. We equalize the tax treatment for the purchase of coverage. Employers get a tax break for purchasing coverage for their employees, individuals ought to get the same kind of tax break. If you do that, then you make it so that we are focusing on the patient, not on government.

BAIER: And some element of tort reform, I assume.

PRICE: Absolutely. Robust lawsuit reform that isn't a cap on noneconomic damages, it's basically a safe harbor, says that if the doctor does the right thing, based on what the specialty society says, not what the secretary of Health and Human Services says, but what their specialty society says, they can use that as an affirmative defense in a court of law. We don't deny anybody the access to the courts. We just say the doctor ought to be able to say, if I've done the right thing, then I ought to be able to use that as an affirmative defense.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Congressman, you have somewhere in the ballpark of 50 co- sponsors as I understand it for this current version of your legislation, and I guess my question is, why only 50 co-sponsors? Republicans have for a long time avoided making health care reform a priority, even if there have been alternative plans, the president isn't right when he says they aren't.  But they haven't made it a priority. Why don't you have 230 co-sponsors?

PRICE: Well, health care is complex, as we've seen that right now, as you see the president's law rollout. I've practiced medicine for over 20 years, took care of patients, so in my core, in my gut I believe, I believe I know what we ought to be doing to our health care system.

For somebody who hasn't been involved in health care, it is tough to be able to get your arms around these issues. And so it is an education process. The American people are being educated to a huge degree right now on what not to do. We believe we have an answer for what to do, that is put patients and families and doctors in charge.

HAYES: But for people who see the problems with ObamaCare, I guess I would be surprised, or I'm surprised that there isn't more Republican enthusiasm about signing up to an alternative.

PRICE: Well, there are a lot of alternatives out there. Republicans may have too many options as opposed to too few.

BAIER: Is that the issue, is that there are too many fish in the pond and you need to focus on one of them?

PRICE: I think we haven't been able to coalesce around a single program – a single health care program. To the leadership's credit I think they recognize that and they are now saying after the first of the year we will bring forth a bill that we be able to unite Republicans around specific health care issues, and I'm looking forward to that. We hope it will be the vast majority of 2300, but there are a lot of good ideas out there.

And I think it is important to have an alternative. You've got to be – you can't beat something with nothing. You have to be able to not just hold the other side to an account but to provide the contrast. There are positive ways to solve health care challenges that we've got, and you don't have to put Washington in charge.

BAIER: A.B.?

A.B. STODDARD, THEHILL.COM:   Do you think that that response, the alternative has to come before the midterm elections? If we see into the new year people not liking what they are buying, what they're forced to buy under ObamaCare and the mandated young and healthy or not complying with the mandate and they're paying the fee and this turns out to be a serious political problem for Democrats, at the same time you're going to have this public saying to the Republicans, you need to fix this right now. Do you believe your party has to vote on something, an alternative, before the midterm election?

PRICE: I'm not sure a vote is imperative, but I do believe that we need to coalesce around a unified plan. But I've always believed that. I think it is important that you have a positive solution out there. Look, we believe in principals in health care that allow for affordability for everybody, access for everybody, the highest quality, more choices. That is what holds down cost, that's what puts patients in charge. We ought to embrace those principals and adopt a policy program that incorporates those principles.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Do you believe philosophically that health care is a right, that every American has a right to, which is sort of a liberal belief? And second, does your bill sort of actuate that? Does it actually make it real so that every American has access to health care?

PRICE: Yes, there aren't any mandates in here, but what we do is make it financially feasible and attractive. Under our provision, every single American would be better off financially if they got covered. And Americans will make the right decision. America is a compassionate country. I'm a third generation physician. America has always cared for individuals to the best capability that they are able to do so. We will care for individuals. If given the opportunity. So you don't need to put Washington in charge. You can allow patients to be in charge, and that's what our bill does.

KRAUTHAMMER: But do you believe as a matter of philosophy the federal government has an obligation to make sure every American has health care?

PRICE: I think we have an obligation to make certain that every American has health care and that we provide every single American the opportunity to gain health coverage that they select, not that they are forced to buy.

KRAUTHAMMER: And your bill will do that?

PRICE: Absolutely.

BAIER: Go ahead A.B.?

STODDARD: I'm interested in that, in the mandate. The Democrats are finding this is not a successful program as of yet with a mandate. They are finding it difficult to compel people to buy insurance. Americans are very confused by this. You say they are learning a lot. Under your pool system where you would make it attractive and financially possible for them to purchase insurance, how do you know you could get a balanced pool that would still be workable for the insurance industry and you wouldn't just have sick people coming in and trying to get the tax credits and buying the insurance?

PRICE: Because you have the power in numbers. Remember that those folks in the individual and small group market, it's about 18 million people. Those are the folks that are truly threatened by losing their health coverage with a preexisting illness or if they change or lose their job, they lose their coverage.

If you allow those folks - it's a new system, it's a creative system, a system that respects patients. You allow those to pool together and it doesn't take a significant critical mass to make it look like everybody else in the self-insured so that the one person's average health status doesn't drive up the costs.

BAIER: I want to go to Twitter. David Williams tweeted in just moments ago, how will the 5 million thrown off their plans get reinsured by January 1st. Isn't this a crisis? And I guess I want to broaden that question in that how do you unwind ObamaCare to wind in, if your plan becomes the plan, a Republican alternative?

PRICE: Hugely challenging question because we've never been here.  We've never been in a situation where the federal government has put in place policy that is forcing people out of their current health coverage. So the honest answer is, I don't know. But I do know that what we need is an alternative that doesn't have Washington in charge and that is what we embrace, a plan that puts patients and families and doctors in charge and provides individuals the opportunity and the financial feasibility to purchase that coverage. 

BAIER: You can say tonight that that is a priority for the Republican leadership after the first of the year?

PRICE: Priority for the Republican leadership as stated to us is to have the Republican conference in the House to coalesce and unify around a health plan.

BAIER: Congressman, stand by if you would. Next up, Congressman Price on the budget deal. He is the conferee. Keep it here.

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