Rep. Mike Johnson On Revived GOP Health Care Plan
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was resuscitated just in time for members of Congress to go back to their home districts. House Speaker Paul Ryan said this on Thursday.
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PAUL RYAN: We have come together on a new amendment that we all believe will lower premiums and provide added protections for those facing real challenges gaining access to affordable care. This brings us closer to the final agreement that we all want to achieve.
MARTIN: This amendment came about as a way to bridge the deep divide between the far right Freedom Caucus and more moderate members of the party. We caught up with one conservative member of the House, Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana. And we talked with him before he left for the Easter recess. He's one of the members who did not support the original bill. He is optimistic.
MIKE JOHNSON: Leaders from all of the various ends of the philosophical spectrum within the party stood together and said, we're optimistic we can get this thing over the line.
MARTIN: So let's talk about that amendment. Give us the summary of what's in it.
JOHNSON: Well, in layman's terms, it creates a risk-sharing - some would call it a high-risk pool scenario for the states.
MARTIN: It essentially means that older people, people who are - have greater health risks are all pooled together, and younger, healthier people are outside of that pool.
JOHNSON: That's a good way to summarize it. It's about 5 percent of our neighbors and friends who are in that high-risk pool, who have conditions that rate them that way. And so what this scenario does is it puts them in a separate pool that the state helps to subsidize in a certain respect. And then by doing that, it drives down the premiums for everyone else.
MARTIN: Although, those patients who are enrolled in those high-risk pools - I mean, you say there are some states subsidies. But it can be very expensive for them out of pocket.
JOHNSON: Well, it can, but there's a provision in the amendment that sets aside an additional 15 billion, I think is the number that's been agreed upon, to allow the states to effectively use that to draw down and supplement, to assist those who are in the high-risk pool.
MARTIN: Members of the House Freedom Caucus, your colleagues, didn't support the original Republican health care plan because they said it didn't go far enough in repealing Obamacare. Do you think this new amendment is sufficient? Will it turn them?
JOHNSON: I'm very optimistic that it will. I mean, I'm among the most conservative members of the Congress, and I believe that those on sort of my end of the philosophical spectrum are going to like this proposal. Many of them have already said that they're in favor of it. And the reason is because it does drive down the premiums. Ultimately, at the end of the day, that was the concern of most of the members of the Freedom Caucus - that the original plan would do nothing to drive down premiums. In fact, some estimates said they would go up.
MARTIN: Do you need to come up with a health care bill that can pass in order to move on to other priorities? I mean, if you don't, does that jeopardize your chances of getting through legislation like tax reform, which could turn out to be equally complicated?
JOHNSON: It could. I think it's an important cog in the wheel, so to speak. There's a sequence of events that need to take place. And this is - this was a primary commitment that many of us made on the campaign trail - to repeal or replace Obamacare. I think we need to get that done just to be good on our word. And when we do this, it will make, I think, the tax reform measures and all the rest of the agenda that we have in front of us that much easier to get done.
MARTIN: Not to take a cynical stance, but how much of this amendment was about giving Republicans in particular some cover when they go home for this two-week Easter break and have to go into these town halls again and have to face constituents who say you promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, and then you gave up?
JOHNSON: Well, you know what? I would say this - and I'm a new member of Congress. I've only been here since January. But my perception is of everyone in our party, in the Republican Party, across the spectrum, they're much more concerned about getting the policy right than they are concerned about the politics. And sometimes that doesn't work in your favor in the media and with public sentiment. But I'm glad. I'm grateful that so much attention is being paid to the details here because the policy really does matter. We've got to get that right, and then I think the politics will take care of themselves.
MARTIN: Congressman Mike Johnson, Republican from Louisiana, member of the House Freedom Caucus. Thanks so much for your time, Congressman.
JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.