Aug 19 Lou Dobbs Tonight CNN Kathryn Serkes faces off with the AARP 7:30 pm EDT
Tonight's face-off debate, is universal health care the solution for the country's health care system? Legislative policy director for the AARP David Certner says yes. David, great to have you with us. AARP representing some 40 million Americans over the age of 50. In Seattle, policy and public affairs director for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Kathryn Serkes. Her association says universal health care simply just doesn't work. Good to have you both here.
Let's begin with David, first. Is universal health care the so- called public option, single pay, however you want to break it down, why has the AARP not come up with its own solution, and we've heard the president say twice, that you guys are on board with what he's doing.
DAVID CERTNER, LEGISLATIVE POLICY DIRECTOR, AARP: Well, we do have universal coverage available for those age 65 plus. It's obviously called Medicare. It's a program that worked very well. People are happy. We know about our members not yet eligible. Those 50 to 64 have a very difficult time finding an insurance company that will ensure them, especially if they have a pre-existing condition. And even if they can afford it, it's often not an affordable price if it's available. We need to have affordable health insurance that are accessible to all people in the society.
DOBBS: So where is - and the great frustration among many at the AARP isn't clear. Where are you? Do you want the public option? Do you support, as the president said, are you on board with him or are you not? You guys said first it was inaccurate. He repeated the statement, you didn't say anything. This is your opportunity tonight to straighten us all out.
CERTNER: We've been supportive of the president's efforts to reform the health care system and to try to improve coverage, access and lower costs. We've not endorsed any specific plan as of yet. We keep working with congress, members from both sides and the president to try to get a good health care plan because we think we need to reform the health care system.
DOBBS: Kathryn, do the doctors you represent disagree or agree?
KATHRYN SERKES, ASSN. OF AMERICAN PHYSICIANS & SURGEONS: Well, I just can't let it go by. The idea that politicians would be out accusing doctors of just worrying about money is the -- how ludicrous that is almost ridiculous. I just couldn't let that go by.
Also, I would make a note many of the executives at AARP make more than the doctors' averages that you just mentioned.
So back to the public plan, you know, there's a problem here that the dirty little secret is it really doesn't matter whether there's a public plan or not, as long as there's an insurance mandate we'll go down the road and end up with some sort of government medicine.
DOBBS: Do you want to respond to that, Dave?
CERTNER: In some respects she's right. It doesn't matter if there's a public plan option or a private plan option or if there's competition between the two. What we're looking for is the end goal which is to get affordable health insurance. Generally right now that means changing insurance company practices. We know insurance companies will deny people insurance if they have pre-existing conditions. If they're older, they'll charge them sometimes seven times much more to make them unaffordable. DOBBS: Are you in the insurance business at AARP?
CERTNER: No, I'm not in the insurance business.
DOBBS: All right. Is AARP in the insurance business?
CERTNER: No. We put our brand name on some products being sold but we're not in the insurance business.
DOBBS: You have a commercial relationship with the insurance industry?
CERTNER: We do sell through some affiliations and get royalties from it.
DOBBS: That puts an intriguing twist on things, does it not?
CERTNER: No, we've been in the insurance business in terms of us being involved in health insurance from our members from the beginning. That's how AARP was started. Our policy drives what our products are. When we think there's a gap in the market --
DOBBS: I happen to be a great believer in capitalism. I believe in laying things out where they belong. Your thoughts -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
SERKES: I think that that's true. That obviously, they have a financial interest. You know the point is Lou, we all have a financial interest in this as patients or as doctors, or as business owners, we all have financial interests. Whole point is to be transparent about it.
I want to go back to what he just said, which is that there's agreement that there should be universal coverage. We don't agree there should be universal coverage. Universal coverage, universal insurance is not care. Coverage is not care. Having a piece of paper that says that you have an insurance policy, whether it's a private plan or public plan, doesn't matter. Just ask anybody who -- in Canada who has that piece of paper and has a right to care, but they can't get the care that they want, waiting times and there aren't doctors available.
DOBBS: Both of you charge with distortions, we're hearing the president saying misrepresentations, I don't remember the exact expression he used today basically saying people are lying. There's no harm saying exactly what we mean. He's saying people are lying. Those are my words, not precisely his. I don't think there's any doubt people are lying in this debate. How do we sort it all out, because we've heard the president, as I just mentioned, one misrepresentation he made twice, saying that you guys were on board with him, you denied that outright. We have people saying universal health care will be the end of western civilization, we know better than that because we've been reporting here for about three weeks that there are public health care systems in the world that work brilliant. So what is the big lie that's distorting the debate from your perspective and from yours? CERTNER: I think there are many big lies in this debate. It's a complicated bill --
DOBBS: Do you want to start with your own or someone else's.
CERTNER: One thing we're hearing from our members, particularly those on Medicare that they're concerned about is that there is somehow some kind of rationing of the care they get.
DOBBS: What would happen if you cut $500 billion out of Medicare?
CERTNER: If you did it the wrong way, we would have problems.
DOBBS: Just be honest. Whether one calls it rationing or whatever, you're talking about cutting Medicare. There will be consequences.
CERTNER: We're talking about removing wasted inefficiency from the system over a long period of time because for many reasons one we know anyone who has experience with health care system knows there's waste and efficiency that we need to cut back on. We can improve care if we cut back on unnecessary tests and unnecessary health care. We also do it for the Medicare program. Health care costs going out of control. It's costing the Medicare program and our beneficiaries who are paying for it a lot of money.
DOBBS: Absolutely Kathryn, real quickly. Biggest lie concerning you?
SERKES: The biggest lie concerning us is doctors are behind this. The AMA would have you believe all of the doctors are in lock stop behind them supporting this and it's been very clear that the AMA was interested in having a place at the table. They were going to spend lobbying money to get a place at the table. They only represent 20 percent of the physicians in the country. Most of those are academic students or retired.
DOBBS: Let me ask you both something very quickly and let's do this real quickly. Do you believe doctors and nurses should be among the highest paid people in our society?
CERTNER: I think they should get what -- what they pay for.
DOBBS: This is a simple thing.
CERTNER: I think right now what we know we want to make sure doctors are paid fairly so they serve the Medicare patients and the rest of the population.
SERKES: I think that doctors believe they should be paid what the market would pay them. What patients are actually receiving the services think it's appropriate amount to pay them. What we have now is market distortion where the contracts are negotiated by third-party payers who aren't the people actually receiving the service. CERTNER: I just want to add from our members' perspective, what's very important, they can have their choice of doctors. It's a very important issue. One of the things we're fighting for on these bills.
DOBBS: You get the last word, real quick.
SERKES: Another big lie we have is that any of these bills will do anything. Frankly the congress is even trying to solve it. I would say they are political maneuverings to look like they're doing something. If they really wanted solutions, they take a look at real reforms that put patients in control, rather than the government.
DOBBS: All Kathryn, thank you very much. David thank you. Appreciate you being here.