Chris Pappas, Democratic candidate in the 1st Congressional District, says we bipartisan legislation is needed to bring down insurance costs, and that patient protections will rein in profit-driven insurance companies.
All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Pappas on health care policy in our final interview for this series. In the past two weeks, All Things Considered spoke with all of New Hampshire's gubernatorial and Congressional candidates.
[This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.]
The cost of health insurance is rising, the cost of deductibles has been going up for about a decade. What would you do in Congress to try to keep health care costs down?
This has to be a primary focus. Everywhere I go I hear about higher out-of-pocket costs, about the cost of prescription drugs that continues to escalate. We've got to make sure that people have access to affordable health care. I think we don't get there by playing politics with the ACA or participating in the sabotage effort that this administration has undertaken. We've got to stop that and look for ways to work in a bipartisan fashion to bring down costs. There's legislation that's been written in a bipartisan way to stabilize the marketplace, restore the cost sharing reductions that the administration canceled, have a reinsurance pool available for New Hampshire that would help stabilize costs over time. I think we benefit from people being in the system. That's why I supported Medicaid expansion at the state level and helped implement it. And I think that's where the focus has got to be, investing in community health centers and in ways where we can bend the cost curve over time by ensuring that we achieve wellness and ensure people are seeing a primary care physician.
Your opponent is in favor of allowing health insurance plans to be sold across state lines. Is that something you support?
We've got to be very careful that we don't allow insurance companies to prey on consumers.
Assuming they don't pray on consumers, would that be something you support?
Well consumer protections are critically important. I trust our insurance commissioner here in New Hampshire to be able to assess that. So I think we've got to look for ways to ensure that there is choice and competition here in New Hampshire. But some of the junk plans that this administration has proposed aren't going to work for people when they need it. And that's why patient protections in the law are really critical.
Do you think the mandate in the Affordable Care Act should be reinstated?
I think it is important that everyone is covered and we should look for ways to do that. That's why, as a business owner, we've provided coverage for our workers. We did it long before the ACA came along because it's good for people's health outcomes. It's good for the productivity of our workforce.
Sure, but is the mandate the way to do that? Is the mandate a good thing? Should it come back?
Well it was a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. And I think that was an important step to ensuring that everyone is in the system, which helps lower costs across the board.
With respect to VA health care, the trend now is to give veterans more options, to go away from the physical V.A. hospitals and get care in the private community. Is that the right direction for the VA in your view?
There's no more important promise that we can make than to care for our veterans who have stood up for us. There are reforms that we have to see within New Hampshire to ensure that we can deliver on that promise to our veterans and ensure that they can receive the care that they deserve as opposed to getting on a shuttle bus and traveling a long distance to Vermont or to Massachusetts to get that care. The reports show that there are deficiencies at the Manchester VA. There are additional services that can and should be provided there and there is also an opportunity to develop a community based model that's going to allow veterans to receive care within their own communities. That's going to require us to work through some of the bureaucratic issues of the Choice Program to make sure that more providers are participating. But I think this is one avenue that we have to continue to pursue to make sure that veterans’ health care needs are met.
How do you get your health coverage?
I get it through my place of employment, my local, my business. And it's the same plan that we offered to the workers at our business.
And how does the way you get your health care coverage sort of shape the way you think about it in the way other people get it?
Well I've been involved in benefits administration at our business and people need advocates because the insurance system is complicated. And people need to ensure that they're getting the care that they need, that they can push back against an insurance company when they're denied coverage for something that's essential. And that's part of the frustration that we have and it's really important that we have patient protections on the books.
Do you speak from experience here? Have you struggled with insurance companies for your own personal health care?
I haven't with respect to my own health care. But the workers at my business are members of my extended family and I've seen some of the tough situations that they've put been put in by insurance companies. And I think it's really critical that we look for ways to rein in the drug companies and the insurance companies that really, at the end of the day, are in it for profit. And that's why it's important that we keep the Affordable Care Act on the books.