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Montana Governor Says Why He Signed Letter To Reject Health Care Law

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of governors, five Republicans and five Democrats, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. They urged the Senate to reject the so-called skinny repeal of the Affordable Care Act. One of the 10 governors who signed the letter is Democrat Steve Bullock of Montana. I asked him earlier, what's wrong with the skinny repeal?

STEVE BULLOCK: Well, I think at the end of the day, I mean, we can look at this skinny repeal, and we know that at minimum 15 million Americans would lose coverage in 2018. We know that the CBO estimates premiums would go up roughly 20 percent. But at the end of the day, I mean, the end game seems to be to get it across the Senate floor, to get behind closed doors and strip more benefits out. We have five Democrats and five Republicans who've come together and said, Congress can try to make all the statements it wants, but at the end of the day we're trying to administer a program, so let's actually do this in a much more thoughtful manner.

SIEGEL: Well, your letter, the letter of the 10 governors, urges the Senate to work with the governors. How would they do that, in what form? What fashion would that take?

BULLOCK: (Laughter) I think it's in some respects pretty darn easy. And we're not saying that, you know, we shouldn't work on fixing unstable insurance markets and controlling costs. But what we've seen so far is a process where, look, not even the senators know what they're going to be voting on. Before even Majority Leader McCarthy had reached out to governors, so many of us gave him what we thought was some pretty thoughtful insight on how to proceed.

SIEGEL: This is Kevin McCarthy of California, a member of the House.

BULLOCK: Yes. Yes. I mean, what we've seen in the last six months is repeated invitations for saying, let's actually sit down and work together and craft something that works for the states - Democratic and Republican states. That invitation's gone unanswered.

SIEGEL: Well, there were five Republican governors who signed this letter and five Democrats. Do you know that you all more or less share the same core concerns about health care?

BULLOCK: Well, Robert, I think that we all do share the concerns of what can happen to the people that we work with each and every day in our various states. And the process that we've gone through here - don't kid yourself. When a bill first passed the House, they said the Senate would fix it, a bill that even the president said was mean. Now we're not getting any closer to that. Now we're just trying to strip down things to again go behind closed doors. And that's certainly not the way I, as a governor, or the rest of the governors that signed this letter - that's not how we operate our railroads. And Congress needs to be doing a heck of a lot better.

SIEGEL: You mention controlling costs, for example. One common proposal to hold down health care costs would be for the government to negotiate lower drug prices for public programs. Is that a point that you agree with? And do you think that all 10 governors who signed the letter would agree that the government should take a much more robust role on behalf of patients and consumers of medicines?

BULLOCK: Yeah. I mean, prescription costs are high by all means. Now, I don't want to speak for my nine other colleagues that signed that letter, but the point being - and that's one great example - is that there's these discussions that are occurring without even engaging us. And I know that everybody that signed that letter stand ready to go to Washington or whatever it takes and sit down and say, let's follow a process, a process like when Senator McCain came back to Washington said, what seems to be missing now from the way things used to operate?

SIEGEL: But it's implicit in the kind of regular order that Senator McCain urged upon the Senate or calls for bipartisan consultations. It's implicit that there actually is a potential consensus of a solid majority of Americans about the health care economy. I mean, is it possible, actually, that there's no mix of mandates and taxes and subsidies that a strong majority of Americans would all support paying for through taxes and premiums? Is it possible that any bill that solves problems is going to be sufficiently unpopular with a sufficient number of people that the Congress just won't approve it?

BULLOCK: (Laughter) Well, erring on sort of the impossibilities when we haven't even taken that first step to have that discussion. I mean, the five Democrats and five Republican governors can actually speak to one another. You'd think at least a few Republican Congress folks or Republican senators could talk to Democratic folks as well and roll up their sleeves and work on the hard issues because what we have right now is we're casting from potential solution to potential solution. And each one of them aren't getting a heck of a lot better.

SIEGEL: That's Governor Steve Bullock, Democrat of Montana, speaking to us from Helena. Thank you very much.

BULLOCK: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.