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Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is a husband, father, grandfather, and evangelical Christian. He’s also one of three physicians in the U.S. Senate. That makes him a leading voice on pro-life and healthcare issues. Here are edited excerpts of an interview that took place at the U.S. Capitol.
How did you become pro-life? I prayed to receive Christ when I was in ninth grade, but I cannot say that’s when I became pro-life. I’m not sure I particularly thought about it, but we are constantly commanded throughout the Old and New Testaments to be concerned with those who are most vulnerable. Then you go to medical school and start realizing the unborn child is an unborn child, not just a clump of cells. Now folks talk about the ultrasound showing the child’s got a face and a thumb and a toe and all the body parts, even when it’s so small. When you’re in medical school, you know that. You don’t need an ultrasound.
How do the dramatic advancements in technology since Roe v. Wade affect the debate? Before, people were told it’s just a clump of tissue, and now, it’s an individual that, if born at 20 weeks, can then survive, even though a normal pregnancy is 40 weeks. I think that’s why we’re seeing attitudes toward life continue to improve.
Recently we’ve seen reports of purportedly pro-life lawmakers who did not live that out in their personal situations. Some have encouraged someone close to them to have an abortion. What’s the difference between being pro-life by conviction and simply holding a political position? If this is truly a life—and it is—that should trump other issues. Even a situation that seems at first fearful turns out to be joyful. Anyone that’s gone to a crisis pregnancy center will hear story after story about that. Anyone who has seen adoption—the child may have been conceived in circumstances not ideal and not planned, but the adoption of that child brings so much joy to so many people.
‘I don’t judge our progress only by laws that are passed, but also by how our culture is moving, and I do see evidence that our culture is moving more to value life.’
The left frequently criticizes pro-lifers for being only anti-abortion but not necessarily pro-life beyond birth. How important is a holistic approach? It’s important, but we shouldn’t let the left define what that means. Being pro-life means caring for the child and caring for the mother as she delivers, and then bringing that child and mother through childhood into reaching the potential that we’d all wish to have. Creating dependency is not how people reach their fullest potential. Creating educational opportunity is. So we need to be pro-life but also stick to our conservative principles and not rob the taxpayer to take somebody from birth until adulthood. The better way is to promote policies that encourage intact families and not promote policies that discourage them.
You were involved in pressuring the Trump administration to cut Title X funding for abortion providers, which is one of the prime funding sources for Planned Parenthood. What’s next on that? Technically, Title X says Planned Parenthood is not supposed to be able to say abortion is family planning. In reality, it’s been allowed to co-locate: “You have an unplanned pregnancy? Walk down the hall.” We should push to end that co-location. If you’re truly not going to link family planning with referring somebody for abortion, let’s move the one out of the building so that there’s no confusion.
President Trump ran on a pro-life platform, but so far we’ve seen administrative action and no legislative wins, like a conscience-protection bill or a 20-week abortion ban—those permanent victories have not been there. Has that surprised you, and do you hold out much hope that that will change? It doesn’t surprise me because it takes 60 Senate votes to pass some legislation. On the other hand, if something gets to Washington, D.C., that means it has already worked its way through the culture. I see evidence that the value of life is increasing, especially among young people, so I don’t judge our progress only by laws that are passed, but also by how our culture is moving, and I do see evidence that our culture is moving more to value life. If that’s the case, then ultimately we will pass laws because Washington, D.C., is merely the end expression of what the culture feels.
You were in the middle of efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, but that didn’t get done either. Until you have the votes, you can’t go forward. It’s ironic: Democrats opposed any effort to make Obamacare more affordable and more sustainable for the average American, but now they say it’s so broken that we have to put everybody into Medicare. They call it “Medicare for all,” but that means Medicare for none: It’s going bankrupt in eight years, but now they want to put another 180 million Americans on it?
Can you forge some compromises on individual issues with Democrats? I sure hope so, but every time I’ve tried to find middle ground it’s been rejected.
What’s an example of something that’s been rejected? We first came up with something called Cassidy-Collins: If you think Obamacare is working well for your state, you can keep it for your state, but for all of our states where it’s not working and premiums are going through the roof, as in Louisiana, let that state do something different. States should be able to come up with a better solution for the people in their state. Chuck Schumer rejected that.
You want patients to have more power? I worked in a public hospital system for 25 years and found if the patient has the power, the system lines up to serve the patient. The power of knowledge: Wouldn’t it be great if you knew the price of something before you had it done, as opposed to getting the bill six weeks later and being shocked by how much it cost? Some urgent care centers are free-standing and will actually publish their prices. You have an earache? That’ll cost you 50 bucks. You need stitches? One hundred and fifty bucks. But others—that under law can serve as an extension of a hospital’s emergency room even if that hospital is 30 miles away—can charge you what the hospital does. So instead of $50 for an earache, it’s $550. Instead of $150 for getting something sewed up, it might be $750. The patient should be able to say, “Huh, this is $550, but across the street—it literally might be across the street—it’s $50. Guess where I’m going?”
You’re working on price transparency for drugs as well? If in a town hall meeting I ask, “Wouldn’t it be great if your pharmacist could tell you it’s cheaper to pay cash for that generic medication as opposed to paying the deductible? Shouldn’t the pharmacist be able to tell you that?” everybody says yes. In many cases that pharmacist is banned from telling the patient that it’s cheaper to pay cash than the deductible because a contract forbids them from doing so. We need to make it so the pharmacist can act in the patient’s best interest.
(Update: After this conversation took place, President Trump signed into law the Patient's Right to Know Drug Prices Act and the Know the Lowest Price Act.)