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Pelosi: Rollout Of Affordable Care Act Was 'Unacceptable'


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. This week, there are congressional hearings on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act exchanges. Republicans have been clamoring for the dismissal of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. They've seized upon the disastrous computer problems as, in their view, further evidence that the law is unworkable. The expert brought in to troubleshoot the website for the White House says that by the end of next month, it should be up and running well. But there have been calls for extending the enrollment period in light of the difficulties that people have found when they've tried to sign up.

Well, joining us to talk about the Affordable Care Act rollout - also known as Obamacare - and I hope other matters, is the House Democratic leader, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. Welcome to the program once again.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: My pleasure to be with you, Robert, once again.

SIEGEL: You told - once again. You told ABC last week - speaking of the ACA rollout - what has happened is unacceptable. Let me ask you: If no heads roll at Health and Human Services, isn't the message that it may be very regrettable but ultimately, it is acceptable?

PELOSI: No, I don't see it that way at all. I think it's unacceptable. Now, they say, there's a plan for it to be working by the end of November, and I find that acceptable. But here's the thing: What we set out to do was to make a big change, a change on the scale of Social Security in the '30s, Medicare in the '60s, affordable care for all Americans as a right for all, not just a privilege for the few. This has been tried for 100 years, starting with Teddy Roosevelt, to have access to quality care for all Americans. We've very proud of that.

With all of the money being thrown and misrepresentations, we passed a bill. The legislation withstood all of the court challenges. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act. It has been - and parts of it have already been implemented, whether you're a child living on your parents' policy until 26, whether you're a young child with a pre-existing medical condition, you're no longer discriminated - again - because of that. You have no lifetime limits for your child. All of these things - the Medicare piece of it to lower the cost of prescription drugs, extend the life of Medicare. and give wellness free without co-pay. As all of this...

SIEGEL: But given the significance of all that you've given...

PELOSI: If I just may, Robert?


PELOSI: All of this has been working just fine, and those responsible have been implementing it just fine.

SIEGEL: But doesn't the...

PELOSI: Now, because of the technology, the technology hasn't worked. I find that unacceptable. Now, it will work, and we'll go forward.

SIEGEL: We're talking about the president's signature achievement, the - a very - as you say, very important, big bill that you got through the House of Representatives. And when you say it's only the technology, the technology is how people actually would buy health insurance.

PELOSI: That's one of the ways. They can do it by phone. They can do it by going to community health centers and the rest. And it's an important way. But let me just say this. I want to just flashback to Medicare Part D, which the Republicans put forth when President Bush was president. Many of us opposed it because it was a big giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry. It passed. We implemented it. We enabled our - we facilitated the participation of our constituents. We did not fight it once it became the law.

But here's what the papers said right after that. (Reading) Newsday: Medicare Guide Is In Need Of The Three R's. Next, Medicare Drug Program Is Plain Bad Medicine. Medicare Drug Plan Not Seen Cheerfully. Confusion Reigns Over Drug Plans. Drug Plan Marks Directions Needed. Health - it goes HHS Works To Fix Self-Plan...

SIEGEL: Yes. I understand the point that you're making at this point, yeah, but...

PELOSI: So - and the point is that this is what happens when you do something big. And at that the time, the Republicans' statements about it were exactly that. I mean, you're not letting me go on because - you shouldn't because I have pages of newspapers...

SIEGEL: Yes, I don't want you to go on for many pages. But a difference is that people weren't penalized for not signing up for the Medicare drug program.

PELOSI: Well, this is...

SIEGEL: In this case, there's a deadline. There's a deadline here. Why not...

PELOSI: Yeah, but they have plenty of time. They've plenty of time.

SIEGEL: But why not do as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, has suggested - and she's been joined by several other Democratic senators - say, look, the six-month period is not functioning at the outset. People aren't having as much time at the beginning as they were - as the law would promise them. So add some time on to the end; extend...

PELOSI: Well, right now, I'd rather we focus our energy on fixing it, and that's really where I think our focus should be. There's no one who is being penalized for not signing up now. They have plenty of time to do it - three-month leeway, in fact. So I think we make the judgments as we go along as to, if it is up and running by the end of November, there's still plenty of time for people to sign up in advance - mind you - in advance of the New Year, when it goes into effect. So...

SIEGEL: But if the clock is still ticking, and if the White House doesn't make the end of November deadline, would you be open to saying, at some point, we have to liberalize the deadline?

PELOSI: Well, you know what? Let's see what that is. I don't even know why we're spending so much time talking about, if it doesn't work. Let's spend our energy and time making it work. And then, as I say, you view it and review it as time goes by. But I don't think you have it almost be a self-fulfilling prediction that it's not going to work and therefore, we should change the time because it takes time to do all of those things.

SIEGEL: Yes. Well, I would say, we'll move on to something else, but...


SIEGEL: ...I think people are raising those questions because it didn't - it wasn't working at the initial deadline.

PELOSI: Well, then perhaps, I should read you the next pages, which say...

SIEGEL: No, I don't want to hear anymore. I don't want you to read anymore pages, please.

PELOSI: (Laughter) (Reading) Medicare Plan Gives Hoosiers A Headache, Medicare Plan Trips Up The Poor...

SIEGEL: Please.

PELOSI: Medicare Reigns - Confusion Reigns Over Drug Plans...

SIEGEL: Point taken.

PELOSI: But let's go on.

SIEGEL: Let's go on to another matter. Last week, you called for a budget conference between the House and the Senate to wrap up...


SIEGEL: Thanksgiving, instead of by the...


SIEGEL: ...Dec. 13 deadline that was set by the agreement to end the shutdown. And you said we - meaning the House Democrats - are prepared to go to the negotiating table to work with the Republicans.


SIEGEL: Are you prepared to bring with you something that Republicans want and House Democrats typically don't want, which is some concessions on entitlements?

PELOSI: Well, you know, this is a question the Republicans always pose. If they were serious about entitlement - changes in entitlement, they would know that you can't have that discussion unless you have revenue on the table. How do you say to Granny, you're going to pay more for your health care, if you're on Medicare while we get - we don't touch one hair on the head of millionaires? We have always said that we would look at Medicare, as we did in the Affordable Care Act - poured hundreds of billions of dollars of savings from Medicare into prolonging its life, reducing the cost of prescription drugs for seniors, and giving them a free wellness - as I mentioned before - free wellness exams without co-pay now, to strengthen Medicare. So we're there to help them to strengthen Medicare. If they're there to say Medicare should wither on the vine - which is their term of art - we're not there for that.

SIEGEL: Quick yes-or-no question, chained CPI...

PELOSI: Same thing with...

SIEGEL: Chained CPI, on the table or not on the table?

PELOSI: The president has it in his budget, so I'm sure that it will be on the table. But I think that the fact is, is that if we're going to go to the table, we want - we have three goals. We want to get rid of sequestration, which by the expression of the Republican chairman of appropriations, does not enable us to meet the needs of the American people. We want to get rid of sequestration. We want to promote growth. We know we have to make cuts. We need revenue in order to achieve what we go there to do.

SIEGEL: Leader Pelosi, thank you very much for your time.

PELOSI: Thank you. Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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