Congressman Pete Sessions on Why Getting Health Care Right Matters

During recent weeks, Texas Congressman Pete Sessions has been hit by millions in attack ads — notably on health care. He shares why he’s driven to get reform right.

By Josh Shepherd Published on October 16, 2018

Less than one month until Election Day, many Americans are beginning to closely watch the midterm House races. Few contests are closer than Texas Congressional District 32, where Dallas lawyer Colin Allred is seeking to unseat Congressman Pete Sessions.

The race is getting national attention. President Donald Trump and former President George W. Bush have endorsed Sessions. Former President Barack Obama is backing Allred.

It’s also getting ugly. One SuperPAC put up $2.3 million to blanket local TV with an ad blasting Sessions on his health care reform plan. With ominous music, the ad claims Sessions “voted for the health care repeal bill that lets insurance companies discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.” (The ad cites Vox as a source, while the AARP objected to a brief mention.)

“I am very sensitive to this issue,” said Sessions in a phone interview on Sunday. “The health care plans Republicans offer provide options and alternatives that would be available in a marketplace to the states. That’s consistent with a viewpoint of covering pre-existing conditions.”

Sessions spoke via phone with The Stream about health care reform and how his family’s personal journey impacts his policy stances.

When Health Care Reform Gets Personal

The Stream: Health care is a hot topic in your Congressional race right now. How is this a personal issue for you and your family?

Congressman Pete Sessions: I have a 24-year-old Down Syndrome son, Alexander. Alex was born into a family that cares about him and cherishes him. In fact, he was given to us as a gift from God exactly how God intended.

Any health care plan but mine would have had provisions against Alex, because of his pre-existing conditions at his birth. It disappoints me that there would be those who would attempt to rally an argument that Republicans are not sensitive to this issue.

In fact, we care very much about families just like we [support] a person later in life who has something that was indigenous to them. There are whole families that run into cancer issues or other medical conditions.

Our party is for the rights of people to have the flexibility to engage as they would choose. We are not [for] an insurance plan that would deny coverage or, as a result of information learned about one’s genetic makeup, hold that against people.

The Stream: How does your health care reform plan ensure that people with pre-existing conditions are covered?

Sessions: The issue of pre-existing conditions actually is not necessarily starting at birth, but rather throughout your life. Because of the nature of that, I don’t think any Member of Congress would [support] changes to not cover pre-existing conditions.

Several health care bills allow flexibility for consumers in essential health benefits. Some consumers might opt out of certain coverage. For instance, families beyond their childbearing years still have to carry insurance for having a baby. They may not want to pay for that coverage. The same is true of substance abuse or other types of things that might fall within a health care plan.

”The health care plans Republicans offer provide options and alternatives that would be available in a marketplace to the states. That’s consistent with a viewpoint of covering pre-existing conditions.”

States should be able to offer cafeteria-style plans that allow for unique circumstances. The Democrats will want to accuse us, saying, Oh my gosh, these Republicans are going to gut health care! In fact, it’s about the needs and desires of patients as well as the cost of insurance. Market-based plans would be catered to your needs.

Rising Costs, Renewed Reform Efforts

The Stream: Many Americans have noticed that health care premiums have increased in recent years. Why is this? 

Sessions: Health care has increased in cost because a huge number of people have chosen not to or cannot pay for their health care. The people who don’t pay for health care pass the costs along to people who do. This transfer of money has become difficult for many people.

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Not only is it difficult to pay, it’s really hard to understand all the ways money is transferred [via] the federal government. A significant part of health care is provided by emergency rooms. Hospitals are the most expensive and inefficient part of the health care system. This has caused costs to dramatically escalate.

There have also been advances in science that are expensive. To have the newest, best technology and pharmaceuticals, that’s darn expensive. It’s good that these services are available, though costs are being passed on to the consumer.

The Stream: How has health care reform advanced this past term in Congress?

Sessions: In the House, we advanced the debate of understanding health care in this country. We need to understand how destructive, discriminatory and un-useful the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has become. It is not only a drag on our economy, but really the free enterprise system.

Those of us who studied it knew that we had to come up with a plan that would be acceptable as a replacement. That fell a little bit short with Senator McCain. We couldn’t even get to conference.

”Hospitals are the most expensive and inefficient part of the health care system. This has caused costs to dramatically escalate.”

But we more clearly defined what the Republican Party will be supporting. It can be described in one minute or less, hopefully by most Members. That’s important as an opportunity to prepare for tomorrow.

The Wonder of Every Life

The Stream: Has your family’s journey with Alexander impacted your support for pro-life policies?

Sessions: Certainly the issue of life itself is embedded in the discussion about children born with medical disabilities or slight differences from others.

Parents may learn they are having a child who could be a Down Syndrome child or a similar genetic disorder. Too many parents — up to about 90 percent, statistics say — choose not to carry the baby to full term. This is distressing to me.

Alex has brought not only joy and love to our lives, but he has made huge contributions. He is an Eagle Scout, a very good swimmer and runner. He goes to work three or four days a week at Home Depot, where he is an essential part of their workforce.

It is good for customers and people to know that our employers in town like Home Depot care about each member of their community. They should not discriminate against Alex, just like they should not discriminate on the basis of gender or race.

Scouting families strongly identify with his struggles and his high moments, so Alex receives lots of people who visit. We cherish not only when he is able to help people, but also that he is able to be a proud member of the Home Depot team. That’s important to every one of our children and young people.


Explore The Stream’s complete politics coverage, and watch for part two of this interview coming soon. Sign up to receive our top stories via e-mail every week.

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