CBS’s Rodriguez Challenges Howard Dean On Medicare Expansion

Maggie Rodriguez and Howard Dean, CBS While interviewing former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean on Wedneday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez questioned his support for a plan by Senate Democrats to expand Medicare coverage: “...the criticism is that Medicare as it stands doesn’t work because the payments don’t cover the plan. Are we just not creating a bigger problem if we have to insure more people under Medicare?”

Dean praised the idea as a good alternative to the public option: “Medicare is a very, very effective program. It’s a government-run single payer program. Everybody over 65 is in it and it works very well....This isn’t perfect and the coverage is not broad enough, in my view, but I do think this is a positive step forward.”

Rodriguez began the interview by pointing out that Dean had previously been adamant about the public option being part of any health care legislation: “...back in August when we talked about this. You said ‘you can’t have reform without the public option.’ But as you know this plan, devised by these ten senators does not include it. So do you oppose it?” Dean replied: “Actually, not at all. Medicare is a public program, and it’s a single payer run by the government....I judge all these plans by whether they move things forward or move things backward. This move things forwards.”

Rodriguez then followed up by wondering: “So are you saying this is just the public option by another name?” Dean argued: “What I’m saying is it is a public program that people over 55 are allowed to buy in to and it makes sense because you don’t have to reinvent another bureaucracy to do it....I think this is still real reform.”

In her final question to Dean, Rodriguez noted the division between Democrats in the Senate and the House over the public option: “What do you do with the fact that the House has a completely different bill on the table which does include a public option. Can this go forward?” Dean brushed aside that concern: “Yes, there’s no reason you can’t have both and there’ll be some kind of reasonable compromise....the most important thing that we’re looking at, is expansion of care. And we’ve got it in the Senate bill.”

After concluding the interview, Rodriguez remarked to fellow co-host Harry Smith: “Last time we spoke he [Dean] also predicted that the President would be signing the bill this month. So we’ll see what happens.”

Prior to the interview, Rodriguez introduced a report on the Senate deal: “Yesterday Senators rejected a plan that would have prevented government subsidized insurance plans from paying for abortions and this morning there’s word that Senate Democrats have come to an agreement on the controversial public option, at least a few of them.” In the report that followed, correspondent Nancy Cordes went so far as to declare: “That’s right, the contentious public option appears, at least in the Senate, to be dead.”

Here is a full transcript of the segment:
7:00AM TEASE:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: After days of secret meetings, Senate Democrats have hammered out a health care compromise. But will it get enough votes? We’ll ask former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean.        

7:05AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Now we move to the heated debate in the Senate over health care reform. Yesterday Senators rejected a plan that would have prevented government subsidized insurance plans from paying for abortions and this morning there’s word that Senate Democrats have come to an agreement on the controversial public option, at least a few of them. CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes is on Capitol Hill with the latest. Nancy, good morning.

NANCY CORDES: Maggie, good morning to you. That’s right, the contentious public option appears, at least in the Senate, to be dead. Democrats simply didn’t have the votes but they’ve been working overtime these past few days to try to come up with a way to cover uninsured Americans without it. And last night Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said they had hit on a solution.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Health Care Compromise; Senate Dems Reach Agreement]

HARRY REID: We have a broad agreement.

CORDES: The Democratic leader wouldn’t say what he and his colleagues had settled on. But the five liberal Democrats and five moderates, who have been behind closed doors all week, have consistently mentioned two prime alternatives to a public option. First, a new national insurance plan to be administered by the government but involving private insurers. The government would negotiate to get the best rates the way it does for federal employees. Second, expanding Medicare, allowing some Americans 55 and older to buy in to the same coverage seniors get.

JONATHAN COHN [THE NEW REPUBLIC]: Medicare is already so big that adding a few million people to it probably won’t change the market as much as creating a whole new public option.

CORDES: The 11th hour ideas are drawing fire from the GOP.

MITCH MCCONNELL [SENATE MINORITY LEADER]: Americans would much rather we get it right than scurry around, throwing together untested last-minute experiments in order to get 60 votes before Christmas.

CORDES: Democrats do still need to figure out how these alternatives would work and how much they would cost. But if the public option actually is dead here in the Senate, that is going to set up a showdown with the House, where liberals are much more committed to keeping it. Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: Right, and their bill still includes it. Nancy Cordes on Capitol Hill. Thank you, Nancy. Let’s get reaction now from a leading supporter of the public option, former Vermont Governor and former Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean. Governor Dean, good morning.

HOWARD DEAN: Good morning. How are you?

RODRIGUEZ: I’m well, thank you. I’d like to read back a quote, something that you told me back in August when we talked about this. You said ‘you can’t have reform without the public option.’ But as you know this plan, devised by these ten senators does not include it. So do you oppose it?

DEAN: Actually, not at all. Medicare is a public program, and it’s a single payer run by the government. So, you know, this is – this is – I judge all these plans by whether they move things forward or move things backward. This move things forwards. We should have used Medicare in the first-

RODRIGUEZ: So are you saying this is just the public option by another name?

DEAN: What I’m saying is it is a public program that people over 55 are allowed to buy in to and it makes sense because you don’t have to reinvent another bureaucracy to do it. This is what should have been done in the first place, this kind of thing. So I think this is still real reform. Whether we – whatever we call it is irrelevant. Is it going to work? Yes it is. Now, of course, the House coverage is much broader and that’s very good, and there had to be some things given up here to do this. But I think this puts-

RODRIGUEZ: But I’m sorry, let me-

DEAN: This puts us on the right track.

RODRIGUEZ: Let me just interrupt you and say that a lot of people would disagree with you that it would work because the criticism is that Medicare as it stands doesn’t work because the payments don’t cover the plan. Are we just not creating a bigger problem if we have to insure more people under Medicare?

DEAN: No, not at all. Medicare is a very, very effective program. It’s a government-run single payer program. Everybody over 65 is in it and it works very well. These expenses are going to be adjusted later on. There’s not much cost control in this bill on either side. And that’s going to happen later on. It’s already starting to happen in the states. Massachusetts, for example, has proposed ending fee-for-service medicine. This is a good step forward. This isn’t perfect and the coverage is not broad enough, in my view, but I do think this is a positive step forward. I think using Medicare makes much more sense than reinventing a different bureaucracy.

RODRIGUEZ: What do you do with the fact that the House has a completely different bill on the table which does include a public option. Can this go forward?

DEAN: Yes, there’s no reason you can’t have both and there’ll be some kind of reasonable compromise, maybe. And I hope whatever they do, the compromise involves expansion of care. That’s the most important thing that we’re looking at, is expansion of care. And we’ve got it in the Senate bill and it’s using the Medicare as the substrate and that’s an important advance.

RODRIGUEZ: Alright, Howard Dean, thank you so much for your time, as always.

DEAN: Thank you.

RODRIGUEZ: Alright. Last time we spoke he also predicted that the President would be signing the bill this month. So we’ll see what happens.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC