Do Other Democrats Wish They Bargained for Health Care Deals?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 22, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: So do other Democrats wish that they had held out and bargained for a deal like the one Senator Nelson cut for his state? Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow has the answer. First, though, we asked her about Cadillac insurance plans.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, good to see you.

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW, D - MICH.: Good to see you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, big news, obviously, the health care bill.


VAN SUSTEREN: The Cadillac -- the tax on the Cadillac insurance, that's the one that's caught your attention.

STABENOW: Well, it has, I mean, because it's something that I would prefer that we not be doing, or at minimum, we need to raise up the levels that are protected before people are actually taxed.

Last summer there was a tax directly on insurance plans I was able to get totally off the table. This came back as a tax on insurance companies for plans right now that's written above $23,000 in value. I don't think that's high enough and I would rather either see that higher or taken out completely.

VAN SUSTEREN: You say rather you'd like to see it taken out completely, but it's not a deal-breaker for you?

STABENOW: Well, in the committee, it was $21,000 cap. We got it up to $23,000 on the floor. I've got it up to $26,000 for early retirees and up to $26,000 for high-risk jobs. And I think we can get it up to at least $25,000. So I have to see movement.

But at this point, there's so many people to this, Greta. I mean, the insurance reforms are in here to help people actually get what they think they're paying for, the people with insurance today, the strengthening of Medicare, the efforts to help small business.

And I'm very proud of Ben, one of the members that has led an evident to make sure a tax credit for small business starts right away next year. So all of those things are very important.

VAN SUSTEREN: The Cadillac health insurance matters, at least as I understand, so much to Michigan because of the labor unions in Michigan, and you've been hit so hard by economic times.


VAN SUSTEREN: That's a big part of your constituency.

STABENOW: Well, we have lots of different folks, whether it's police officers or building trades or autoworkers or communication workers that have seen their wages go down, but they've been able to bargain to keep good health care.

And this plan originally was not aimed at them, it was aimed at the folks on Wall Street, the high-end insurance plans. But in my judgment, it hits too many of the folks that I fight for every day.

VAN SUSTEREN: Here's the problem is that you were a loyal Democrat who got on relatively early with the Democratic Party. Senator Ben Nelson was the holdout. If you had held out, you could get rid of that, I mean, with the bargaining.

Does that bother you? You probably could have -- you wouldn't have to be sort of preferring or rather or hoping that it be changed if you had held out to the bitter ends. You might have been able to get it.

STABENOW: First of all, there are a number of things in committee I was able to do, helping early retirees, helping people in high-risk jobs, getting a reinsurance plan so that early retirees that are on their employer's insurance that they can get help so employers can keep them insured.

There was a whole range of things I was able to get done for people of Michigan.

VAN SUSTEREN: Don't some of the senators feel a little bit of the rub, sort of reward the holdout rather than the loyal party member in the beginning?

STABENOW: It's unfortunate the nature of having to have every single person in order to overcome a filibuster. If we were in a situation where we didn't need 60 votes to stop filibuster after filibuster, it would be different. But it's the nature of it.

But, you know, people who know me in Michigan know that I'm a fighter and I'm just going to keep fighting to improve this bill, as I have been all along.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why is it that the -- if it's such a good health care reform, it doesn't go into effect for four years, but we've got to start paying now? If it's such a good deal, can't we use it now?

STABENOW: Well, first of all, there are things that happen immediately. Preexisting conditions for children will stop immediately.


STABENOW: For adults, there's going to be a high-risk pool set up so if you can't find insurance because of a preexisting condition, you're going to be able to finds it now. The full protection for adults takes place in four years.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why can't we have it now, because people are hurting now?

STABENOW: I agree with you. I want to get as much of that as early as possible. This was something that was worked on as to how to phase it in, both to be able to pay for it, to make sure that we're being responsible. Everyone says, you know, be responsible, make sure this is paid for. We have done that.

But also, to work for a smooth transition. The insurance industry is having some major reforms. We're going to stop the insurance company abuses, and at the same time opening up a new pool of potential customers for them. That's going to be blended at the same time.

And we also have a lot of efforts to make sure they don't artificially raise rates before they go on the exchange. So that's important.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it's twofold, as I understand, correct me if I'm wrong. One is the transition period, the four years out, the second is to pay for it, which of course is what rubs many Americans the wrong way. It's like going in to buying a car and they say your monthly payments start now, we'll give you the car in four years. And everyone is sort of wondering, well, I'm paying for it now.

STABENOW: Well, here's what I would say. First of all, we're going to stop excessive overpayments to private for-profit insurance companies in Medicare, so we can put that back into Medicare. That needs to happen as soon as possible.

We're going to be targeting excessive bureaucracy and waste and other efforts now. That's very, very important.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are we getting now?

STABENOW: Well, let me tell you first what we are getting now, which is making sure any plan that is coming into being after this passes. No child will have preexisting conditions. Your children can stay on your plan till age 26. You're not going to be able to get dropped if you get sick.

You're going to be able to get preventative care with no out-of-pocket funds. We start a number of things related to Medicare right away. So we start a lot right away.

What we don't start -- and I'd love to see it start sooner -- is the new pool for small businesses and individuals and the expansion for low- income individuals through Medicaid. Those things happen in four years.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thanks very much.

STABENOW: You're welcome.


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