Steve Inskeep talks to Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii about her party's strategy going forward as Republicans tried to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The many people we're hearing responding to the news include Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who joins us now by Skype. Senator, welcome to the program. Good morning.
MAZIE HIRONO: Good morning, Steve. Aloha.
INSKEEP: Thank you. Aloha to you. Does this mean your side won?
HIRONO: Oh, no, not at all because Mitch McConnell has already announced that he intends to put repeal to a vote, and that would be disastrous for 30 million people who have health care under the Affordable Care Act, not to mention all of the people with pre-existing conditions, of which I am now one.
INSKEEP: OK, a couple of things to follow up on there. First, you said 30 million people. Mitch McConnell has said that he wants Republicans, if they can, to proceed to a straight-up repeal. And I think you're referring to Congressional Budget Office estimate of an earlier version of straight repeal that said something like 32 million fewer people...
HIRONO: Yes, definitely.
INSKEEP: ...Would have health insurance over an extended period of time. That's what you would argue would happen with straight repeal, is that right?
HIRONO: Of course. Not to mention that the whole intent is to repeal the Affordable Care Act and then take two years to replace it. And what gives us any sense of assurance that the Republicans who don't have enough votes right now to replace the Affordable Care Act, that they'll be able to come up with something that will truly provide universal health care as a right, not a privilege? So there's going to be two years of uncertainty.
Everybody in the 30 million people will be kicked off their insurance policies. And everybody with pre-existing conditions will be basically out in the cold.
INSKEEP: Well, let me just ask about the Republican perspective on that approach if Republicans do really end up taking it. Their thinking is we want Democrats to play, we don't trust Democrats actually to play seriously. But if we do repeal and there's this time bomb at the end, in a couple of years, Democrats will have to be serious and work with us to come up with some kind of bipartisan solution.
Do you think that might work?
HIRONO: I think the Republican position of constantly talking about how unwilling the Democrats are to change Obamacare or Affordable Care Act in ways that will make it a lot better is just, you know, it's what I would call shibai (ph) and BS because when we first passed the Affordable Care Act, we had dozens and dozens of hearings that took us over a year.
I know because I was on one of the major House committees that dealt with the Affordable Care Act. So for them to continue to take the position that we are unwilling when we have already put ourselves on the record as wanting to make appropriate changes to strengthen the Affordable Care Act is just malarkey
INSKEEP: You used a couple of terms there. I think I know the term BS. What was the other term you used, Senator?
HIRONO: Shibai (ph). It's a Japanese word meaning, in short, b.s.
INSKEEP: OK (laughter). All right, so we're just going into multiple languages here. And malarkey, I guess that goes where you want to go as well. I want to ask about one other thing, if I might, Senator. I know it's personal, but you've talked about it publicly. You alluded to a pre-existing condition of your own. What's your pre-existing condition?
HIRONO: I was diagnosed with stage-four kidney cancer only three months or so ago. And that's why it is so true that all of us are just one diagnosis away from a major illness. And I'm glad that we caught my cancer early enough before it went to other parts of my body and that I could concentrate, because I had insurance, on appropriate care as opposed to worrying about how the heck I'm going to pay for the care that I needed to save my life.
And that's what a lot of people will be up against if we repeal the Affordable Care Act.
INSKEEP: When you say stage four, that sounds pretty bad. How are you doing?
HIRONO: I'm doing fine. It just means that the cancer had gone from its initial site to another site. And so I've had two operations. I'm on the mend, and I'm as feisty as ever. Let's put it that way (laughter).
INSKEEP: Do you expect one of these days to actually be voting on some kind of health care reform for real?
HIRONO: I'm hopeful because when we first started to talk about the health care system in our country, there was bipartisan recognition that health care was costing so much, that it needed to be fixed. So as John McCain said recently or today, that we should engage in regular order so that we can have hearings and that we can get on with a bipartisan, sincere effort to make sure that health care is available and affordable to everybody.
Health care is a right, not a privilege only for those who can afford it.
INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much, appreciate your time.
HIRONO: Thank you very much. Aloha.
INSKEEP: That's Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.