Representative Mo Brooks spoke with WHNT News 19 about passing the AHCA, his hopes for healthcare, and his thoughts on pre-existing conditions. We have included the full video of the interview in this story. We have also included a transcription, done in part by an audio transcription service due to the length. However, with an issue of such complexity, we want you to have access to as much information as possible on your representative's position.
David Kumbroch: Alright, we're here with Congressman Mo Brooks from the Fifth District in Alabama, which represents Huntsville, so a large portion of the audience here. And we're here to talk about the American Health Care Act, which just recently passed the House now heads to the Senate. First things first, I've heard a number of members of the House say that they're thrilled with what came out; I`ve heard some say that they hope the Senate will make changes. Is this the health care bill that you hope becomes law?
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, 5th District of Alabama: Well it is an improvement over what we have, because Obamacare is imploding. You've got many parts of the country now, believe it or not, where they cannot buy insurance or soon will not be able to buy insurance. And it doesn't make any difference how high the premiums are, or what the quality of the insurance policy may be, if there are no insurance companies that will sell you a policy. That's how badly Obamacare is imploding, particularly in places like Iowa. But now you've got counties in Tennessee that are starting to experience difficulties, Virginia ...
I would prefer something much more free market-oriented and supportive of liberty and freedom principles, but this is an improvement and hopefully it's better than what Obamacare has been.
David Kumbroch: But what does that mean more market and freedom principles? What would you specifically like to see implemented?
Rep. Mo Brooks: Interstate competition amongst the health insurance carriers is a prime example. Remove any and all exemptions related to antitrust requirements in the healthcare industry generally, and with health insurers more specifically. Anything that will push competition into the system. When you have competition, then the providers of that good or service are put into a position where they`ve got to come up with a better price or a better product in order to get the clientele that they sell those things to, so they can stay in business and make a profit. But without competition and monopoly or oligopoly circumstance then it`s easy to gouge the consumer.
David Kumbroch: That feels like the goal of the individual marketplace that was implemented in ACA. So what needed to be changed from that version of the individual marketplace to get the competition that you're seeking?
Rep. Mo Brooks: Well, the problem is that the individual marketplace has not been working. I'm not going to say that I'm an expert in all the nuances of the insurance industry or the Affordable Care Act. But I do know that the outcome is, something like a third of the counties in United States of America now are down to one insurance carrier. That's monopoly, that's not competition. And then you've got a number of counties, as I just mentioned, throughout the United States of America, where there is, soon or already is, no insurance available. And then there's not only no competition, you can't buy the product. And that's really bad for people who want to have health insurance so they can better afford the cost of a catastrophic illness.
David Kumbroch: You have made a pretty big shift from the original draft of the AHCA to the draft that you passed in the House yesterday. You called it the largest Republican welfare bill in history. So what brought you around to the newer draft of the AHCA?
Rep. Mo Brooks: Well, it still is the largest welfare program in the history of the Republican Party. That aspect of it, with the tax credits, refundable tax credits, where people actually receive money regardless of whether or not they had an income, OK. And I need to be a little bit clearer, the money will ultimately go to the insurance companies that they choose a for their health insurance. So that`s still there, anywhere from $2,000 per person on the low-end to $14,000 or $15,000 on the high-end, depending on the different circumstances of your family income, how many people are in your family, and things of that nature. That`s still there. The other side of the coin is the actual health insurance itself. And the mandates that Obamacare requires, that are in those policies. That make them better policies, that's good. But on the other hand, it dramatically increases the cost so much that more and more families having a difficult time being able to afford them. And if families can`t afford these luxurious policies, that cover everything you can imagine, and they go without insurance as a result, then you made things worse, not better.
David Kumbroch: And so you don't think the way the mandate plays into it, that it balances out? That it keeps families with enough incentive to participate, but still able to afford?
Rep. Mo Brooks: Well, philosophically I have a disagreement with the federal government mandating that Americans have to buy this or that product, under this or that terms or conditions. I may be a little bit old-fashioned, but I believe in freedom and I believe in liberty. And I believe in the ability of the American citizenry to make the right choices for their family. At the same time I also believe in the consequences of making bad decisions, because those consequences of bad decisions are what teaches us to make better decisions in the future. And so philosophically I oppose the federal government telling everybody what we have to do, even though there's 300-some million of us. We`re different. We have different incomes, different things we can afford, different things that we need. But when you have a one-size-shoe, fits-all-feet philosophy mandated top down from the federal government, I just don't think that's right as a matter of principle. And then as a matter of application, that one size shoe, of course, does not fit all feet.
David Kumbroch: If you allow people who need less health coverage, right, to purchase less health coverage, how do you offset the costs of people who have pre-existing conditions or real and press health problems that they didn`t ask for or deserve?
Rep. Mo Brooks: Well you know pre-existing conditions is a defined term and unfortunately the American people do not understand what that means. A lot of people confuse it with the word `portability` where you have insurance over here and now you want to take it to another company. That`s portability, that`s not pre-existing conditions. And then you`ve got different types of pre-existing conditions. But let me get right down to the nuts and bolts of all this ... the American people, right now, are spending almost $400 billion a year, that`s money taken from taxpayers that could be used for their families, that is now, instead being used to help people with a pre-existing conditions or people who have no insurance. That is a huge amount of generosity from Americans who are working, who would probably prefer to have that money for their own benefit. But instead, because of their generosity they`re helping these folks that are unable to help themselves. Whether it be a pre-existing condition, circumstance, or it be - say with Medicaid - where they have no insurance of any kind whatsoever. And you`ve got to balance how much more do you want to take from working families in order to be generous to folks who can not pay their own way, for whatever reason. It might be because of the seriousness of the injury or health illness that they have, the cost is so great that most families couldn`t take care of that. So we`re doing the best we can with what we have. Always bearing mind that the United States of America is heading to insolvency and bankruptcy if we don`t better mind our pennies and our dollars. We have a $600 billion deficit last year, a $20 trillion debt overall and we`re being warned by the Government Accountability Office, by the Comptroller`s General`s Office, by the Congressional Budget Office, that our financial path is unsustainable. So while there`s a desire to give everybody health care, we have to limit that desire by the realization that we do not have unlimited funds to do it and we have to try to balance as best we can. And that`s the real hard part.
David Kumbroch: And so there are just some people who don`t get the health care, that we can`t afford it?
Rep. Mo Brooks: Everybody gets health care in America when you go to an emergency room. And there are different ways in which that is paid. If anyone has a solution, where we have some kind of money tree or gold mine that produces the wealth that is necessary to give everything everybody wants, well that`s wonderful, but we don`t have that. We have to operate within the limits of the wealth of the United States of America and health care right now is consuming about 1 out of every 6 dollars spent by Americans. And so it is a very significant part of the living cost in the United States of America. And then you`ve got families who are really struggling. And when you take $400 billion from them, that comes out to about $10,000 per person in the United States of America, that we`re already helping, um, under these circumstances.
David Kumbroch: So what protections do people with pre-existing conditions, which I mean can range from pregnancy to cerebral palsy, what protections do they deserve? Which ones do we have to make sure we can afford to provide?
Rep. Mo Brooks: Well, that`s a really tough question. This is my solution. If I had a magic wand this is what I would do: I recognize that I`m not smart enough to make every health care decision for 300 something million Americans in the United States of America, OK? I would, if the federal government`s gonna have X number of dollars that we`re going to help people with. I would block grant that to the states, I would terminate the federal employees who control this system now. That frees up even more money that goes to the states, and say, you 50 states, you have 50 different sets of citizens, you have 50 different sets of income capabilities, you have 50 different sets of needs. You decide how best to resolve the minutiae of all these different decisions that have to be made in order to provide the best quality of health care to the citizens in your state. And hopefully, those state governments would be up to the task of doing that. Because quite frankly, based on what I`ve seen with Obamacare, it`s clear, that the federal government has not done it very well.
David Kumbroch: Do people with pre-existing conditions deserve to pay higher premiums than people without them?
Rep. Mo Brooks: Well, there`s a different way of looking at that ok? First, when you say pre-existing conditions you have to get in to the definition. Are you talking about someone who`s ill, who has insurance and want to renew their policy? Is that what you`re talking about? Let`s get into specifics.
David Kumbroch: People who are suffering from what insurance companies deem a pre-existing condition.
Rep. Mo Brooks: Well, that`s not, that`s not answering the question. A pre-existing condition technically, is when you have an illness and you don`t have insurance. And then you want to buy insurance. And you want to pay less money than the cost of your treatment may be, forcing the remaining cost on to other people. OK, so basically you`re talking about a class of people who for whatever reason - either because they lack the resources or they wanted to game the system - they`ve decided not to have insurance. And then they get sick and then they want other people to pay for it. Um, under those circumstances, under this bill, with the American Health Care Act, $8 billion was added to help those people, even though a good number of them have voluntarily put themselves in the position where they don`t have insurance. Now if someone has insurance and gets sick, and the insurance company tries to dump them because the cost associated with the illness, that`s wrong and the insurance company ought to be stuck with those folks without any significant increase in the cost of the premiums for those folks, because that is the risk that the insurance company took in insuring these people in the first instance. It doesn`t work right if insurance companies are only going to sell insurance to people who never get sick. Part of the risk factor is, some number of all the policyholders are going to get sick, and the policyholders that get sick, their higher costs are spread out over everybody that is in the pool. So that`s why I try to focus on what you mean by pre-existing conditions because it means so many different things to so many different people.