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Trump Friend Argues Against Republican Health Care Plan


A friend of President Trump warns him not to lose his way on health insurance. Christopher Ruddy is CEO of the conservative media company Newsmax. He talks with the president from time to time.

So people noticed when Ruddy published an article this week. He argued a Republican health plan that the president endorsed is all wrong. Ruddy told us that Republicans are misreading their own voters, the people who gave them several big wins since 2010.

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY: Health care has been one of the underlying themes of Republican wins in all of these elections. But in 2010, Republicans had a huge victory. And why did they have that? Because Obamacare was passed. And the Republicans ran against Obamacare. And Obamacare, they said, gutted Medicare.

INSKEEP: Think about that for a moment. Ruddy says many voters were not demanding the government back out of health care. They wanted to preserve government-run health care for seniors.

RUDDY: Rather than saying, hey, we've got to improve health care and make sure Medicare for instance was protected, the House Republicans under Paul Ryan proposed a plan that would abolish Medicare in 10 years and turn it into a voucher program run by the states and private insurance companies. It was a rather strange response to that election.

INSKEEP: Now, Paul Ryan is speaker and promoting a new plan. Ruddy calls it Ryancare (ph) Two. This House plan preserves parts of Obamacare but in reduced form. It takes money out of Medicaid, the health program for the poor. Ruddy would rather see President Trump expand Medicaid.

RUDDY: The problem with Ryancare Two is that it's trying to force many of the poor people that were taking Medicaid or couldn't afford private insurance and went into Medicaid, they're trying to push them into private insurance systems. And they're giving them a tax credit to do so.

There's a couple of problems with that. One is it's not going to give coverage to a lot of poor people because many of them may not even file tax returns to get the tax credit. So it creates a barrier of entry, so to speak, for them to get insurance. The second problem is the tax credits don't cover the full cost of the insurance, making it terrible.

INSKEEP: If you're low income, sure, you may not have a thousand dollars or whatever the extra amount would be, right.

RUDDY: And here's the point. Medicaid works. It's not a perfect system. I think it needs to be improved. It works. And it's a lot cheaper, if you look at the numbers. Private insurance is far more expensive. So you look at this and you say what are they trying to do? Why are they doing this? And I believe, and I've been told this by my congressional friends is that the insurance industry wrote this legislation. They were the main driver as it was put to me.

But my problem with the current health care system is when you say we're going to put people to buy private health insurance, somehow that's better than Medicaid, it's a bogus argument because most states regulate the insurance market and create such barriers. There's only a handful of carriers in each state. So they essentially have a near monopoly. It's not really a private, competitive market.

INSKEEP: People know that you talk to the president, that you're friends with the president. Have you said to him that you think that the Republican plan is going in the wrong direction?

RUDDY: I sent him over the article that I wrote on Newsmax. I have not gotten any feedback from him on it. We chatted a lot of times back in the 2012 election period and before that when Ryan first put forward Ryanplan (ph) One which was to abolish Medicare. And Donald Trump at that time was very unhappy about that plan and thought it was politically not smart. And his view, similar to my view on this, that people that paid into the system all their lives shouldn't be shortchanged.

INSKEEP: Do you think the president is still up for grabs here, meaning that different people may be fighting for the president's mind even though publicly he said, I support the House Republican plan?

RUDDY: I think we need to take a deep breath and give the president a break. He comes in. He doesn't really have a health care policy plan set. So he adopts the one that the House Republicans, who have been working on this issue for years, say they have the fix. And I think I can't fault the president for doing that.

I can fault for the House Republicans for providing the president with a plan that didn't get the support of their own House Republican members. Before they went public with this, they didn't get the support of their Senate Republican colleagues, nor did they get the support of interest groups, whether they're conservative or in the health care industry, outside.

INSKEEP: Based on your conversations with the president, you mentioned that he feels under attack all the time. He certainly makes that clear in his public statements. But based on your conversations, how's he doing with the pressure of the job?

RUDDY: I have found him to be incredibly relaxed and more focused even than I recall him being before the election period. He's a guy that likes to talk about a lot of different things. And he's easily bored. And I have seen him focus on issues. So this is not somebody who's a hothead, went out and just started running the government.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you about one part of that though, one thing that does make people think there's a hothead there. Some days ago, the president went through some frustrating news, woke up quite early in the morning it seems or was already awake and tweeted accusations that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, has yet to provide evidence for that or to find it in the government.

And now the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who has been a supporter of the president, has said, based on everything that I've seen, there's no way that statement is literally true. There's no way to take it literally and find it to be true. Which leads to my question. There's so much discussion about whether to take the president literally. When he makes a statement like that about wiretapping, do you think he believes what he is saying?

RUDDY: Well, he told me that day - I saw him twice that day - and he told me that it was true and that the truth would come out and he'd be proven right on it. My view as a journalist is, hey, I'd like to see the evidence just like you, Steve, and the rest of the country on it. I have no reason to doubt him. He seemed pretty confident on it.

INSKEEP: So we should take him literally? He literally means that, whether it's true or not, he literally believes it in your view?

RUDDY: Well, I think there's a feeling at the White House among many people that the campaign was surveilled at one point or another, whether it was targeting Trump Tower, targeting him specifically. I don't know the details of what they actually literally think or what he literally thinks on it. But he seemed to indicate there was some surveillance and that the truth would come out on it. Again, I would like to see the evidence just as much as you would on this.

INSKEEP: Chris Ruddy, thanks for taking the time.

RUDDY: Thank you, Steve.


INSKEEP: He's the CEO of Newsmax, talking via Skype. Since we spoke with Ruddy, more officials have said the president's claim of wiretapping is groundless. Senate Intelligence Committee leaders, like House leaders, say there's no evidence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.