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Our previous coverage: Live at Senator Claire McCaskill’s health care town hall in Kansas City

At the conclusion of today’s town hall in Kansas City Senator Claire McCaskill (D) held a press conference. She took questions from a gathering of print reporters, television reporters, and bloggers for approximately twenty minutes:

Question: …A lot of, what I hear from employers, including insurance companies, is this scenario, I just wanted to have you respond quickly. First of all, that a public plan would eventually be offered to every business, they’re talking about right now just individuals and small businesses. But because of the lower price it would drive the insurers out of business and become a single player plan. At that point the Federal government would heap on more coverage mandates which would increase the cost and eliminate the flexibility employers have to control costs right now by raising the deductible and co-pays. What’s just your general response to that argument?

Senator Claire McCaskill: Well, there can be dire scenarios painted with just about any situation as it relates to health care. It’s a pretty dire situation if we do nothing. Businesses are, have a competitive disadvantage internationally because of the huge health care costs that they are saddled with in this country. And so, I think, doing nothing is a pretty dire situation and I know that there are many people who want to believe, especially the insurance companies, that any kind of public option would make the government an unfair competitor. And, and, it, what I’ve said to some of them is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say the government is incompetent and delivers an inferior product and then say you can’t compete with them. Especially if it’s a constrained public option. That’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a constrained public option that is not going to be underwritten to the extent that we don’t want to drive all the other private companies out of the market. That’s not the goal here. The goal here is to have a constrained public option. And I think people feel pretty strongly that it remain an option and not be the kind of eight hundred pound gorilla that swallows up all the ability of private insurance companies to compete….

….Question: And what does constrained public option mean?

Senator McCaskill: Well it means that…[crosstalk]

Question: Not Medicare plus five per cent.

Senator McCaskill: Exactly. I mean it means that it would be the same kind of underwriting requirements, that there would be not the kind of subsidies, in fact the subsidies, the, what’s envisioned is the subsidies that somebody could get would apply to any of the companies that are in the exchange. Wouldn’t just apply, you don’t get a subsidy just if you take the public option. You get a subsidy if you take any of the private options that are available. Size, in terms of the, the constraint, you know, how much is underwritten by the government, those are all the kinds of things that are being discussed to make sure that it remains an option and doesn’t end up being the only option.

Question: But how do you stop, some Dem…some Republican senator insists that the public option is just the first step, the intermediate step, to a single payer system or some sort of system in which the private insurers are crowded out of the market? And, you know, five years from now, oh boy, this public option sure workin’ good, maybe we ought to just lower everything, the costs, out of the public option and drive these guys [crosstalk].

Senator McCaskill: Well I guess that you only [crosstalk].

Question: Some Democrats are making that argument. Hey, single payer.

Senator McCaskill: Well, that may be. And I think what the situation will dictate what happens in the future. I can’t predict what future Congresses will support or not support [crosstalk]…

Question: Well isn’t that the problem, though [crosstalk]?

Senator McCaskill:…Or what the public will support or not support. You know, the, the problem right now we’re faced with is trying to reform health insurance in a way that is fair to, to the consumer, consumer protections, and to provide some kind of competitive playing field that brings down costs. I can’t predict what Congress is gonna do ten years, twenty years, thirty years down the line [crosstalk]?

Question: But you still think the public option of some constraint is a good idea?

Senator McCaskill: I do.

Question: Yeah, yeah. What do you think about the reaction out here today? You’ve been to a, done a bunch of these [crosstalk], you’ve [garbled]…

Senator McCaskill: I have [laugh]. I was a little taken aback. This was obviously, it’s certainly the, the most vociferous support I’ve seen for attempts to reform health care so far in the, in the meetings I’ve done [crosstalk].

Question: Of all the town halls you’ve done more supporters here than any other one?

Senator McCaskill: No question about it. There have been some [crosstalk]…

Question: Why do you think that is?

Senator McCaskill: I don’t know. There have been some meetings I’ve had in very small, in smaller places where it’s been very heavily weighted, people who are very distrustful of government, don’t want the government to do anything, even though they don’t want us to touch their Medicare. They don’t want the government to do anything. There have been others, it’s been fifty fifty. This felt like it was a majority of people were supportive of some kind of major health care reform [crosstalk].

Question: Did, was it organized? It looked like a lot of CCO people. Looked like somebody got out there and really organized [crosstalk]. That kind of thing [garbled].

Senator McCaskill: Here’s the thing. I thought it was a really bad mistake to ever say anybody who was showing up at these meetings were somehow bussed in or bought. Sure, the right is organizing and, and other folks on the left are organizing. Everyone is organizing. There’s blog sites that are telling people who disagree with President Obama’s ideas to come to these meetings and these are the things you should say. And the same thing is going on with people who support it. That’s fine. That’s what Democracy’s all about.

Question: It does say something that fifteen hundred people or whatever it was would show up for a meeting about health care. You’ve been in politics for a long time, getting a crowd like this on anything is tough to do.

Senator McCaskill: I mean we had standing room only in Moberly at one o’clock in the afternoon. We had standing room only at, in Hannibal at nine o’clock this morning. Hundreds and hundreds of people showing up in relatively small communities. There is a great deal of interest, and part of the interest I think is that people are, some have made up their minds and they want to come and advocate, but there is still a lot of people that want to know more.

Question: One of the questions that’s often asked at these town halls to everyone from the President on down is, will you, as a member of Congress, or you as part of the administration shift from your great health care plan, one that you have now, to whatever is, is provided by whatever the outcome.

Senator McCaskill: Well, I [crosstalk]…

Question: Haven’t heard a straight answer on that one yet.

Senator McCaskill: Well, I’m certainly, I’ve said it over and over again. I think that the
members of Congress should have the exact same options as any other American as it relates to any gateway or exchange. Whatever is in the gateway or exchange that any individual can go and purchase, that should be the same options that are available to Congress. No better, no gold plated plan. But we should have the same exact options as the people that I visited with here in this state today.

Question: Your colleagues agree with that?

Senator McCaskill: I think most of them do. I think most of them do. I think they understand that it, it, talk about breed cynicism. When you talk outta both sides of your mouth and say well we think this is what’s best for America but it’s not good for us. I think it’s important if we think it’s what’s good for America it oughta be good enough for us….