ICYMI: Senator Collins Discusses Health Care on NBC’s “Meet the Press”

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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Susan Collins appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with host Chuck Todd to discuss health care.

A transcript of the interview follows:

“Meet the Press”
July 30, 2017

TODD: Joining me now from her home state of Maine is one of the Republican senators who consistently voted against her party's health care bills, the various repeal and replace options. It’s Susan Collins. She joins me now from Bangor. Senator Collins, welcome back to the show.

COLLINS: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: Let me ask you this, one of the same questions I asked Secretary Price. Do you accept the premise that the efforts to repeal Obamacare are fully dead and it is now time to refer to this as our national health care system and it is his job and your job to make it work?

COLLINS: I don't accept the premise that we should not proceed to reform the law. There are some very real problems in the law. Secretary Price is right about that, and he identified them. The problem is that Congress, as my friend and colleague Lamar Alexander has often said, does not do comprehensive well. What we need to do is to go through the normal process, identify the problems, have hearings, hear from experts, hear from all the stakeholders, and produce a series of bills to fix the very real flaws in the Affordable Care Act. First on my list would be to stabilize the insurance markets to make sure that people have access to insurance.

TODD: Are you confident, though, that Secretary Price at HHS is implementing -- is trying to keep this law afloat -- that is doing everything he can to create certainty, or are you concerned that there are some aspects of HHS implementation right now that are actually undermining the law, attempting to sort of create more problems in order to, say, force Congress to act?

COLLINS: I'm troubled by the uncertainty that has been created by the administration when it comes to the subsidies that are given to very low-income people to help them with their co-pays and their deductibles. I hear this described by some as an insurance company bailout. That’s not what it is. It is vital assistance to people who make between 100 and 250 percent of the poverty level and allows them to afford their out-of-pocket costs. The uncertainty about whether that subsidy is going to continue from month to month is clearly contributing to the destabilization of the insurance markets. And that's one thing that Congress needs to end. We need to make very clear that that subsidy is important to those very low-income people, and we need to appropriate the money to ensure that it continues.

TODD: Do you think Senator McConnell needs to give up the reconciliation aspect of trying to deal with health care, that he should pledge, okay, I’m done trying to jam health care through in this way? The process is back to the regular order. Are you there not only encouraging that but are you going to tell Senator McConnell your vote will never be there for him on any of these reconciliation health care bills until he opens up the process?

COLLINS: I’ve made very clear that I believe we would produce far better legislation if we went through the normal process of having committee hearings, hearing from health care providers, from insurance regulators, from advocacy groups, from governors, from everyone involved and then produce bipartisan legislation with input from both Democrats and Republicans. That’s how we get the best legislation and that is the best path forward to fix the very real flaws that Democrats and Republicans alike see in the Affordable Care Act. So that's the path that I want to take and that means not going through reconciliation but going through the normal committee processes. I’ve been urging all along and Senator John McCain urged in his very eloquent speech on the Senate floor.

TODD: It was something -- you were quoted this week in another report as saying that while Vice President Pence lobbied you and some other administration officials lobbied you that you didn't really hear from the president. When was the last time you heard from the president on health care?

COLLINS: Well, I do want to make clear that the president invited me to the two meetings at the White House to talk about health care. At the first meeting where I was seated next to him, he certainly did encourage my support for the bill. That was a few weeks ago. And he asked my opinion on what we could do on a reinsurance pool, which I am particularly interested in to preserve coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and lowering premiums. But most of the input that I’ve had from the White House has been from the vice president and from the administrator of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

TODD: There were a lot of sideshows this week. One of them had to do with a hot mic moment that caught you and Senator Reed talking about first the threat that a Republican member of Congress made at you. Let me -- but there was another portion of the tape that you have not referenced at all. Here it is.

REED: Yes, I think he's -- I think he's crazy. And I -- I don't say that.

COLLINS: No…lightly.

REDD: Lightly as kind of, yeah, you know, a goofy guy.

TODD: You appear to be referencing the president there with Senator Reed. Can you expound upon that a little bit. How concerned are you about the president?

COLLINS: Actually, what I was talking about is the president's budget. If you go earlier in that tape, I talk about the fact that OMB went through the budget and appeared to zero out many really vital programs without doing a careful analysis of the impact on communities, on vulnerable citizens, on veterans, on people across the United States. So when I said I’m worried, that's what I was referring to. I was referring to the president's budget, and I am worried about the president's budget. As OMB has put it forth, I think there are a lot of problems in it.

TODD: And finally, there's been some speculation that the president may ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions to replace John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security, but that would essentially be throwing him out of the Department of Justice. Would you support a move like that or would you attempt to block a move like that?

COLLINS: Well, obviously it's up to the president whom he wants to have where in his Cabinet, but let me say this: The Attorney General made absolutely the right decision to recuse himself from the Russian investigation. He consulted with the career staff and he followed the exact guidelines of the Justice Department. So for him to be criticized for the decision to remove himself from the investigation, I just don't think is right.

TODD: So you would not support any attempt to move Jeff Sessions to DHS?

COLLINS: It’s up to Jeff Sessions and the president, but if he's being moved because of his correct decision to recuse himself, I think that's a mistake. I do think that General Kelly will do a good job as the White House Chief of Staff. I think he will bring some order and discipline to the West Wing.

TODD: All right, Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine joining us from Bangor. I want to prove to my friends in Maine that I do know how to pronounce the city's name correctly. Senator, thanks for coming on. Thank you for sharing your views.

COLLINS: Thank you. We appreciate that.