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Health Care Showdown Heats Up; Medicare Throwing Away Tax Dollars?

Aired July 20, 2009 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: First this hour, it's the last thing any military family, any commander, any president wants to see, a young American soldier held captive and paraded before the cameras.

But now it gets worse. You're looking at pictures of a special kind of training U.S. troops get in case they're captured. And we have learned that Private 1st Class Bowe Bergdahl did not get that training.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's working the story for us.

Chris, this is a pretty shocking story from many respects, but the video and the emotional statements that he's making released by the Taliban, it's startling. And I want to play a little clip for you.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRIVATE BOWE BERGDAHL, U.S. ARMY: Well, I'm scared. I'm scared I won't be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, tell us about this training, the SERE training, as it's called, and, apparently, this soldier didn't get it.

LAWRENCE: Well, every soldier that goes to Afghanistan gets basic survival evasion resistance escape training, basic. What you saw there was the much more advanced training that is only given to troops at the highest possible risk of being captured.

We're talking rangers, special forces, pilots. They are put through a very intense course that includes sleep deprivation, food deprivation, very intense realistic scenarios over several weeks.

What Private Bergdahl would have gone through would be a more basic form in which he's instructed to follow directions, not make enemies of his captors, but always look for a way to escape. It's drilled in these soldiers, there's a difference between being a prisoner of war and a prisoner at war.

BLITZER: And, Chris, pay attention to this, because top officials in the Obama administration say they're doing everything possible to bring Bowe Bergdahl home after three weeks of being held captive.

The video of him is getting a lot of play online and on TV. And there's even a Facebook page now that's trying to get his release. But look at this.

I have today's "New York Times" right here. It's not on the front page. There's a story inside, sort of buried inside, about a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. But near the bottom of the story, a brief reference to this captured American soldier.

And I think in part because of that "New York Times" reporter, David Rohde, who, what, six months he was held in captivity, everybody kept it secret.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They knew, if it became public, it would be more difficult to win his release. And this is sort of the dilemma facing the military right now. The more publicity you give this soldier, the more he becomes a prize for the Taliban.

LAWRENCE: You hit the nail on the head, Wolf. There is a real reason why the U.S. military knew about this soldier's disappearance weeks ago and they did not publicize his name for a reason. Now, their hand has been forced because the Taliban has made it public but how this changes things is, now the Taliban has a propaganda tool that they are more likely to make use of.

That is a real reason why the U.S. military did not want his name out there.

BLITZER: Chris, thanks very much.

In Private, Bergdahl's hometown of Ketchum, Idaho, today, broken hearts and prayers for his safe return. The soldier's family is staying out of the limelight, but a friend spoke out about the nightmare they're going through.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALT FEMLING, BLAINE COUNTY, IDAHO, SHERIFF: They're not going to do anything to jeopardize Bowe. And so you're right. You know, there was some, you know, inklings that he may have been captured over there, and yet, you know, they kept quiet on it. And that's just the respect that we have here in this community for each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Another person who hasn't spoken out directly about the captured soldier, the commander in chief, President Obama.

Now a reality check on President Obama's campaign to overhaul health care. He was inaugurated exactly six months ago today and he has a little over a month left to meet his goal, at least his initial goal, of getting legislation passed in Congress.

So, what was his P.R. strategy today? He rejected any comparison between himself and one of the biggest losers in history, Napoleon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just the other day, one Republican senator said -- and I'm quoting him now -- "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."

Think about that. This isn't about me. This isn't about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses, and breaking America's economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: a lot of politically charged buzz words being thrown around today in the health care debate. The Republican Party chairman likened the president's proposals to socialism.

But Democrats may be more concerned about the old tax and spend label. Behind closed doors right now, senators of both parties are trying to hash out their differences.

Let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, they're meeting behind closed doors right now, and lots at stake.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot at stake. I don't think it's an overstatement, Wolf, to say that what's going on behind these doors actually, the fate of the president's health care bill lies in the hands of the senators meeting behind these doors.

And the challenge that they're dealing with mostly right now is how you pay for it. And let me just put up on the wall the price tag just to give our viewers a sense of how tough this task is -- $1 trillion. That's roughly how much they think this is going to cost.

And to pay for it, they have got to find some combination of raising taxes or cutting spending. And getting that right combination, that is what the senators meeting behind me, this bipartisan group of senators, that's one of the main things they have been grappling it and they're grappling with as we speak.

BLITZER: (AUDIO GAP) major policy difference that we're talking about of paying for this reform.

BASH: Right. There are so many policy differences and challenges as well, everything from the role of government with regard to this reform and how many people are going to be covered in this health care reform bill.

But one of the most contentious issues, believe it or not, is abortion. I talked to a Republican source involved in these talks. He said, look, any time you deal with government subsidies of some kind of health insurance policy, which is what they are talking about behind these doors, you have to ask, well, will this insurance plan include abortion?

That is just one of the contentious issues they're talking about. And there are so many more. They want to get some kind of deal by midweek. It is really unclear if they are going to be able to pull that off -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana's watching it every step of the way.

If you're tempted to think President Obama's health care push is destined for the same fate as Bill Clinton's failed plan, consider this. Bill Clinton was elected with just 43 percent of the vote. Barack Obama was elected with 53 percent of the vote.

Back in 1993, Bill Clinton's party had a 57-seat majority in the U.S. Senate. Right now, 60 senators vote with President Obama's party. That's a more powerful filibuster-proof majority. Mr. Obama has a much stronger hand politically as well.

So, in other words, lots can still happen.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, but he's also -- he's getting some resistance to this from within his own party. There are conservative Democrats who don't like very much about this health care idea at all.

BLITZER: And a lot of them are up for reelection next year.

CAFFERTY: That's exactly right. So, suddenly, this big majority isn't quite as powerful as you might think at first glance.

Anyway, the war in Afghanistan could soon become another huge test for this young Obama administration. We have been showing you the Taliban video of this young Idaho soldier who has been captured there. In it, Bowe Bergdahl is prompted by these slime, his captors, to beg for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, saying the U.S. is wasting time and lives there.

This 23-year-old soldier from Idaho says he misses his friends and family and he's afraid he won't be able to go home. The U.S. has condemned the video as a violation of international law.

Meanwhile, after eight years of war in Afghanistan, a new Gallup poll shows 36 percent of Americans say the U.S. involvement there was a mistake, compared to the 58 percent who said our involvement in Iraq was a mistake -- 54 percent of those surveyed say things are going well for the U.S. in Afghanistan.

But public support may not last forever. July is already the deadliest month ever for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates over the weekend said that U.S.-led forces must show progress there by next summer. Otherwise, the American people will believe the war has become unwinnable.

Gates says victory in Afghanistan is -- quote -- "a long-term prospect" and that after the Iraq experience, the American people won't have the stomach for a long slog in another conflict -- quoting here -- "The troops are tired. The American people are pretty tired" -- unquote.

The U.S. recently sent 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, after a year that saw a significant increase in extremist attacks against not just our soldiers, but NATO troops as well.

So, here's the question. How committed are you to the United States continuing the war in Afghanistan?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Your tax dollars being thrown away by Medicare? Just wait until you see what Drew Griffin has uncovered in his latest investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: So who would come up with a system where renting this wheelchair would cost four times the amount of money it would take to actually buy it?

Let me give you a hint.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Time to take time-out of sorts. We're trying something new this week. We're taking a break from all the political rhetoric that is out there to get a sense what is really going on right here in Washington.

Jessica Yellin and the best political team on television, they are here to help us better understand what's going on.

You have got an issue out there, Jessica, that's really sparking some excitement.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf.

You're asking about Washington. I'm going to talk about Sweden, because a lot of critics of health care reform here in Washington are talking about Sweden. Come on over to the wall here and I will show you why.

Now, there is a lot to like about Sweden. For example, a lot of Americans like their models. A lot of Americans like their music, ABBA. Who doesn't? And a lot of Americans like their furniture. But Americans in general do not like their tax code. Here's why. If you make $1 million in Sweden, you could end up paying $550,000 in taxes, 55 percent. And according to the Tax Foundation here in the U.S., if one of the versions of the House Democrats health care plan passes, some Americans in 39 states could end up paying 50 percent of their income or more in their taxes.

Well, before you groan in despair, you should know, on the upside, in exchange for all that money, in Sweden, they have better health outcomes and they spend less of a percentage of their overall budget on health care than we do in the U.S.

But that might not be convincing enough for some politicians, like Nancy Pelosi, who is worried about the Democrats and especially well-to-do Democrats, whether they going to support this, and the president, who has cause to worry about independents. So, the big question today, Wolf, that we are going to ask is, are Democrats in danger of losing the rich?

BLITZER: That's a great question. Let's talk about it with Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, David Frum, the former Bush White House speechwriter, and Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent.

Is the U.S. going to wind up like Sweden?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think the U.S. will wind up -- I thought the question was, are the Democrats going to lose the rich?

But it won't end up like Sweden because there are too many conservative Democrats who can combine with Republicans and nix any plan that would tax anyone 50 percent.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, you see that Nancy Pelosi is backing away. The Democrats are nervous. They are talking about the worst possible subject, how much to raise taxes for the Obama health plan and how much government control of expenditure will be.

This is the Democrats, the spending party. I wonder if President Obama wishes he had that $800 billion in stimulus money back. If he hadn't spent it on that, he might have more a little bit leeway right now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What Nancy Pelosi did today was essentially an intervention into her own Democratic Party and said, wait a minute. People out there hear $200,000, $300,000, you're going to be taxed more, they think that could be me, which is why she said, no, no, no, we're only going to do it on people over $1 million, whose families earn over $1 million.

BLITZER: For families.

BORGER: But even with that, what you're establishing, I think, and what the Democrats probably don't want to do, is this whole notion of class warfare again, which is something -- it's a hole they just kind of dug their way out of with the election of Barack Obama.

I don't think they really want to go back there.

FRUM: Delivering a message of more taxes for less care, is that really where they want to be?

BLITZER: Not exactly the message they say they want to deliver, but that's the way you framed the message for them.

All right, Jessica, there's another issue out there that's generating a lot of excitement as well, this whole issue of the way people who want to work in the government are being vetted.

YELLIN: That's right.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been talking out about this a lot. Now, first of all, we should say Clinton today is in India. She has spoken out and said that she could cannot be more satisfied with the time she's had with President Obama. And that's because she's clearly batting down stories that claim that she has been eclipsed by the White House.

Now, of course we have to point out that if Clinton were getting a lot of headlines, people would probably criticize her for trying to eclipse President Obama. OK, but we digress.

The one issue that Senator -- that Secretary -- excuse me -- Clinton has really been outspoken about is this issue of vetting. Now, she has said a number of times, over and over in the last week, that she is outraged about how long it's taking to get people into their positions. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The process, the clearance and vetting process is a nightmare.

I still think it's hard to justify not having our full government in place six months after we started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: She even called some of the process ridiculous.

Now, the backstory, it's all about this man, Paul Farmer. Now, Dr. Farmer is, in the universe of good guys, one of the really good guys. He has dedicated his life to helping the poorest of the poor in places like Haiti and Peru.

Let's take a look. This was a child before Dr. Farmer's organization got to help them. This is the same child after Dr. Farmer's organization came to help her, before and after, clearly, one of the good guys.

But Dr. Farmer, his nomination to be head of USAID, the organization that gives humanitarian aid around the world, is not going through yet because he's still in the vetting process.

One of the questions they ask, how many people of foreign nationals have you ever come across in your life? Obviously, a guy who works in Haiti and Peru is going to have a tough time answering that question.

Now, this is all about President Obama's promise during the campaign, Wolf, that he wouldn't let special interests into the government. But you have got to ask, is this going too far?

BLITZER: Is it going too far?

BORGER: It is. I agree with Hillary Clinton. I think it's ridiculous.

Also, we're living in the world after Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle, who had their tax issues. It also comes after a campaign in which the president said no lobbyists in the White House.

And, so, it's overreaching. It's overextended. You're keeping good people from going into government because they don't even want to go through this kind of a vet. And you're also keeping anybody who has ever lobbied the government out of government. And that can be a problem.

They wanted to appoint someone at the State Department to head -- to be deputy secretary of state for human rights who used to lobby on human rights and couldn't get the job.

FRUM: I remember having to fill out a form that asked me to list every foreign trip I had taken over the previous 15 years, date of departure from the United States, date of return.

And when I -- some procedure left over from the days when people traveled by ship or buggy or something, not very relevant to the day of the $299 fare to Paris. And when I asked the counsel's office how am I to cope with this, say, ah, do the best you can. If you're wrong later, of course, you can get into a lot of trouble.

We need a peace treaty between the parties to -- and we should have done it the year before the election. Whoever wins, we are going to get rid of a whole series of these questions, the things left over from the '50s, when we were looking for communists. We are going to focus on a few financial disclosure requirements, a few security requirements, and get rid of the rest. Let presidents staff their administrations their way, faster.

BLITZER: Because a lot of good people are being discouraged from public service.

CROWLEY: Right. And some of it's the salary, but you're right. Some of it is like what you have to go through and put out there. But how about some common sense here?

How about he goes to whoever it is and says, look, I spend my entire life in foreign countries, I can't possibly answer this, and they go, OK, you don't have to, and they put an initial, just like some thinking brain somewhere, instead of a bunch of applications?

All right, guys, thank you very much. Good discussion, Jessica, the whole team, actually. Thanks very much.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You would think that Medicare would get a discount for common medical items. But wait until you see how your tax money was wasted because of a simple wheelchair.

And a federal judge accuses the CIA of fraud. Even a former director could now be in trouble.

Plus, the tiny virus that's made almost 100,000 people around the world sick. We're taking you inside a lab that's trying to stop the swine flu using insects. It's a story you will see only here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: At this moment 40 years ago, the Apollo astronauts were on the moon getting ready for their first steps on the surface. Coming up, Buzz Aldrin in THE SITUATION ROOM relives those historic moments with me.

Plus, your money, an expensive wheelchair and a Medicare blunder that's a prime example of broken government.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a prime example of a major flaw in our health care system. CNN found evidence that government is wasting your tax dollars.

What you're about to see is eye-opening, the amount of money Medicare is forced to pay for a simple wheelchair.

Investigative correspondent Drew Griffin goes to Capitol Hill to explore a clear case of broken government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): To Debbie Brown (ph), it's really easy to understand why Medicare is going bust. Since a back surgery gone bad six years ago, she's had plenty of time to think about it, to think about the wheelchair the government has been renting for her with Medicare dollars.

(on camera): For this squeaky chair?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's kind of embarrassing. GRIFFIN (voice-over): So far, for this very wheelchair, taxpayers have spent more than $1,200 just to rent it.

(on camera): How much does this wheelchair cost if you just bought it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I wanted this one, about $400.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Could that possibly be true? Yes.

Here is the exact same wheelchair being sold on the Internet for $440, free shipping. But wait. It gets even better. Brown's wheelchair is rented to her from a national health care products supplier named Apria Healthcare. It's one of the largest of thousands of Medicare providers. It's Apria that has already billed the government $1,200.

To check prices, we decided to buy our own chair. The company we called said Brown's model is no longer being made, but this one made by the same company is even better.

(on camera): These have been pretty sturdy, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes. Those are good chairs.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The price? Just $349. The company selling it to us? Apria Healthcare, the same company charging Medicare $1,200.

(on camera): So, who would come up with a system where renting this wheelchair would cost four times the amount of money it would take to actually buy it? Let me give you a hint.

JONATHAN BLUM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR MEDICARE MANAGEMENT: Well, Congress sets payment rules, and the statute often is very prescriptive to how CMS has to pay for health care services.

GRIFFIN: Jonathan Blum is President Obama's pick to try to change how the Centers For Medicare and Medicare Services, CMS, has been paying for this, which he points out is very different from how the rest of the country shops.

Congress, it turns out, sets the rules for how much a wheelchair should be rented for. And Congress has determined that the wheelchair should be rented for a period of 13 months, instead of just buying them, and Congress has determined price is not as important as other considerations, like small-business contracts and availability.

(on camera): You can't imagine anybody who actually had to pay for this would go out and get the same price that the government is being handed.

BLUM: It's wrong. The good news is, we have new authority right now to use competitive bidding, which would give the program much more flexibility.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): That new authority is to actually have companies bid on the prices for things like wheelchairs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, I would urge us to defeat this bill.

GRIFFIN: The problem is, Congress has been very reluctant to allow competitive bidding. It's been delayed for years, started last year, then stopped after just two weeks because of complaints from Congress.

They will try again this fall, but Congress is complaining again. In this letter, signed by 84 members of Congress, saying: "The competitive bidding system is unfair."

To find out exactly why members of Congress are against competitive bidding, we took our wheelchair to the halls of Congress -- to the top Republican and Democrat who signed that letter.

Betty Sutton is the Democrat.

(on camera): What better way to contain costs than just have a competitive marketplace?

REP. BETTY SUTTON (D), OHIO: Well, you know what, I -- I'm a big believer in competitive bidding. So at the outset, I absolutely concurred. But this program, as it has -- has unfolded, as it's been developed, it really is a competitive bidding process that isn't competitive at all.

GRIFFIN: (voice-over): Marcia Blackburn is the Republican.

(on camera): On the free market, this $349 wheelchair is pretty cheap.

When the government is paying for it, it so far costs four times as much money.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: That is right. And any time you have a bureaucracy that is going to make those decisions and is going to decide what that price is going to be, look what it ends up costing. And as we talk about health care reform, that is one of our points.

GRIFFIN: (voice-over): Both say they support competition -- just not the rules the government has set up.

What's this really about?

The American Association for Home Care represents businesses who have been billing the government for things like wheelchair rentals. In a statement, the Association said the bid program would "sacrifice care for seniors and people with disabilities, as it reduces patient access to and choice for medical equipment."

And the Association claims competitive bidding will actually increase Medicare costs because it will lead to longer, more expensive hospital stays. (on camera): How does Apria account for the disparity in pricing of these two wheelchairs?

The company says its own employee made an honest mistake and should have charged CNN $949 for the Tracer SX5 -- $949 for a wheelchair whose manufacturer suggests a list price of $655. And a wheelchair we again found online even cheaper than we first bought it -- for $289 and $249, free shipping.

Apria says it charges more for its wheelchair because of extensive government paperwork and its full service -- 24 hours a day, including free delivery.

John Rother with the retire advocacy group, AARP, says industry is just trying to protect profits, where a $349 wheelchair costs a mere $1,200.

JOHN ROTHER, AARP: It's an outrage. It's a ripping off of the taxpayer. It doesn't make any sense.

GRIFFIN: Debbie Brown (ph), her four-year-old wheelchair needs replacing. She's reluctantly applied through her doctor for a new one.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Sacramento, California.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: You just saw one reason why health care reform is such an expensive prospect and so hard to fix.

Let's dig deeper right now with a key member of the United States Senate.

We're joined by Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania.

Tom Forman is here, as well -- and, Tom, you've been looking at some of the Republican criticism that's really being waged against the Democrats, especially the president.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. This is the key to it, Wolf. And, as you can see, Senator, this is what the Republicans are presenting as an organs -- an organizational chart of the House Democrats' health plan, with consumers way over here and the president up here and a lot of other stuff in the middle, which the key point, Senator, as you d say -- as they would say to you, is all about money -- that all of this costs a tremendous amount of money that we don't have.

SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Right.

FOREMAN: What do you think?

Does this have any -- hold any water?

Does this have any weight to it? CASEY: Well, Tom and Wolf, it's very clever, but it doesn't reflect reality.

What we're talking about here is something very basic. If you like the health care that you have, you can keep it. If you don't like what you have, you can -- you can go through a gateway and choose a different plan. And, of course, if you have no health insurance at all, our plan -- and I'm talking about the Senate plan -- can provide it.

So they can -- they can use all the charts they want. But the key thing here is giving people the option to choose the kind of health care that they want.

BLITZER: Because you -- because you remember -- both of you remember back in '93, when they killed Bill Clinton and Hilary Clinton's health care reform. It was that chart that was so -- so evident, which was so devastating.

CASEY: They're...

FOREMAN: So what's the chart we should be drawing?

CASEY: They're dredging up old tactics.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: So what chart should we be drawing now?

Let's start over here. Let's look. Here are the consumers over here, all right. This is me. I'm a consumer. And over here is the federal government, all right?

Here's the government over here. And here is the health care business up here. This is RX, the health care business.

How does this connect under the current plan?

CASEY: I think if you wanted to be -- to be simplistic about it -- but that's -- we're trying to talk about the element. If you're someone who has a plan that you like, you can stay with the plan you -- you have.

FOREMAN: So if I'm connected to health care this way...

CASEY: Correct.

FOREMAN: -- you're saying I can still do this with no connection whatsoever to this?

CASEY: Now, if you're someone -- let's say this is option two and you don't like the health care that you have, you can -- you can choose a plan that's different. But you need to go through the so- called gateway.

FOREMAN: OK, but what... CASEY: (INAUDIBLE) gate.

FOREMAN: But explain to me. Let's put this in here.

BLITZER: This is the government option.

CASEY: Right.

FOREMAN: What is the gate?

CASEY: No, no, no. It's not the government option. This -- this is the -- the pathway into which you would get health care. But once you get into the gateway, then you have options. You -- you can pick a private plan.

FOREMAN: OK.

CASEY: You can pick a private plan.

FOREMAN: So I can branch off here...

CASEY: You're a better drawer than I am.

FOREMAN: That's OK.

I can branch off here and I can go to a private plan, right?

CASEY: Right.

FOREMAN: When -- when you say the gateway, what do you mean?

Is this a government office?

What is this?

CASEY: Well, it's a way to -- to allow everyone to -- to go into the system together. In other words, if you want to cover 97 percent of the American people, which is the premise of our bill in the Senate, you have to make everyone a party.

FOREMAN: So this is a government office?

CASEY: Well, it's not an office. But it's -- it's a pathway into which (INAUDIBLE)...

FOREMAN: I'm saying if I call them on the phone, what am I calling?

CASEY: You're -- you'd be -- you'd be working with the Department of Health and Human Services.

FOREMAN: OK.

CASEY: They...

FOREMAN: The Department of Health and Human Services. CASEY: Right. In other words, and they would have a...

FOREMAN: OK.

CASEY: ...they would have a Web site. You can go to the Web site and you can find out all the details about the plan that you want.

Now, if you said you know what, I don't like the way the private sector has treated me, you have a...

BLITZER: Like Blue Cross Blue Shield or United Health Care, whatever.

FOREMAN: Right.

CASEY: You could have a private sector -- or you could have a -- a public sector plan. You could -- you could choose a Medicare like option. So you...

FOREMAN: OK. So this is...

CASEY: You might want to put public...

FOREMAN: And this is going to come here from the federal governments, in fact?

CASEY: Correct.

FOREMAN: so now I have a public plan over here.

CASEY: Right.

BLITZER: This is a government-run operation.

FOREMAN: And I'll just...

BLITZER: It would...

FOREMAN: -- (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: It would compete with the private company.

CASEY: The -- right. But the way it is in our bill is it starts with the government. The government provides it initial financing. But then it's supposed to exist on its own. And it's an apples to apples comparison. You're not talking about some kind of program that just has government backing all the way.

It exists on its own. It has to have the same solvency requirements. It's a health care plan, but has its start and...

BLITZER: But...

CASEY: ...and it competes with the private plans. BLITZER: ...the private companies -- and the Republicans, at least a lot of them, say there's no way they could compete with the government and all the subsidies that the government has.

CASEY: I -- I go back to what President Obama said. He said the same crowd who's saying it's going to hurt them are saying competition is good. And the same crowd against it is saying that they're not going to be able to compete.

Look, the private plans can compete. The people who don't have health insurance should have a public plan.

FOREMAN: But this is...

CASEY: And it's an option.

FOREMAN: But this is...

CASEY: They don't have to choose that. They can choose to stay with their private employer.

FOREMAN: But that's the notion, being...

CASEY: Right. Right.

FOREMAN: -- if the private plan is supplying insurance to me and suddenly a public plan...

CASEY: Right.

FOREMAN: -- comes in here and says I'll supply it whether or not I want to stick with my private plan, the fear, of course, is that an employer down here is going to say, listen, if you can get it this way, I'm done. We're finished. You must go up here to this plan.

Is that a valid concern?

CASEY: Well, I don't think it is, only because we've had a lot of success over the years with -- with regard to Medicare. Medicare has been a plan that older Americans have been able to rely upon and use that kind of an option for them. And what we're talking about here is a, in my judgment, ideally what I would like is a Medicare like plan where someone doesn't have to reach a certain age to be -- to allow that -- that choice to be made available to them.

FOREMAN: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: And it's getting close to the single payer option, too, which some -- some folks want, like Bernie Sanders, one of your colleagues, but a lot of others think would be disastrous.

CASEY: Some want that. But I do believe that the Senate bill builds upon the existing employer-based system. This isn't radical change. It gives people another option. And I'm holding here the first -- one of the first pages of the coverage section, which isn't getting a lot of attention. But one of the first things we do in the coverage section -- it's literally on the second page of the text -- is to say no more pre- existing conditions as a bar. That is a dramatic and positive change...

BLITZER: Indeed.

CASEY: ...that you -- you don't have that bar in front of you of a pre-existing condition.

BLITZER: Senator Casey, thanks for coming in.

CASEY: We'll try to be a better drawer next time.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman is a very good drawer.

CASEY: OK, Tom.

BLITZER: He's got a future up there in the drawings.

FOREMAN: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: There's a race against the clock to find a way to stop the swine flu right now. Six hundred million doses of vaccine are needed before October. And one tiny company says it has the answer. Inside the lab that uses insects -- yes, insects. You'll see this report only here on CNN.

Plus, Apollo 11 astronaut in THE SITUATION ROOM talking about that moment 40 years ago today when he landed on the moon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is how bad the swine flu pandemic has gotten. The number of documented cases around the world is climbing so fast, the World Health Organization is now so swamped, it says it's going to stop counting. That leaves the tally just under 100,000. Health officials say their resources would be better spent focusing in on trends instead of the raw numbers.

Here in the United States, the government is looking into ways to develop flu vaccines that could be revolutionary.

Our Mary Snow went behind the scenes for a story you will see only here on CNN -- Mary, what did you find?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as one official from the Department of Health and Human Services told us, when it comes to vaccines, the Department's charge is to leave no stone unturned. And that's why it's giving a serious look to some smaller companies with newer technology, including one you're about to see.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's the virus. SNOW: (voice-over): Inside this vile is a microscopic menace responsible for the first global pandemic in 40 years -- a brand new strand of Influenza A, H1N1, known as swine flu.

Scientist Jason Hollister says the day his lab received a sample, he worked with it around the clock -- excited to unlock the mysteries behind it.

(on camera): Very few people can say they're excited to get the H1N1 virus.

JASON HOLLISTER, PROTEIN SCIENCES CORPORATION: That's true. Yes. Here we -- we like to get the flu virus.

SNOW: (voice-over): That's because Hollister and his colleagues are in a global race to develop a swine flu vaccine. But unlike giant pharmaceutical companies, this small biotech firm is relying on a different method than most to manufacture a vaccine.

Protein Sciences took us on a tour, explaining vaccine ingredients in this soup-like concoction contain a virus from insects.

The company's CEO says it's mixed with cells from a single caterpillar dating back two decades.

DANIEL ADAMS, CEO, PROTEIN SERVICES CORPORATION: We just needed one caterpillar way back when. That caterpillar is frozen away so that the FDA can always look at the source to find out what it really looks like.

SNOW: (on camera): So your studies are based on cells from a caterpillar from 20 years ago?

ADAMS: Yes. And that those cells continue to grow and multiply. We're constantly growing cells.

SNOW: (voice-over): This is the key difference. Most vaccine makers use chicken eggs to grow a modified virus -- a method used for roughly 50 years. Dr. Bruce Gellin of the Department of Health and Human Services calls it a cumbersome process and it's part of the reason HHS awarded Protein Sciences a $35 million contract, despite the fact the company is battling with a competitor trying to force it into bankruptcy.

DR. BRUCE GELLIN, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES DEPARTMENT: We need new ideas. And while they may not be the ones that we're able to harness for this coming problem, we know that as we improve the technology, our response to any of these kind of issues is going to improve over time.

SNOW: Gellin says the HHS doesn't anticipate using Protein Sciences' version of the H1N1 vaccine and is instead relying on five companies with track records of making flu vaccines. But it's not stopping the small biotech.

Adams and his colleagues say their technology is faster and can be outsourced -- a critical factor when millions are expecting to be clamoring for a vaccine in a few months. And Adams remains skeptical older techniques can keep up with demand.

ADAMS: And it takes too long to get there. There's no way that you can serve the needs of the whole world.

SNOW: The United States is keeping a close eye on countries like Australia that are now experiencing winter and a regular flu season, as well as the spread of swine flu and the coming weeks pose a critical test, as the U.S. is expected to begin clinical trials to see if a vaccine can stop this virus in its tracks.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: So, Mary, if this company isn't likely to make a swine flu vaccine in the United States, how does it do its testing?

What is it doing in -- in that area?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, at this point, the company says it's going to go ahead and start clinical trials in Australia. They expect to do that this week. But, you know, even if this technology is found to be safe and effective, it would still need to get this new technology for flu vaccines licensed here by the Food and Drug Administration.

BLITZER: CNN's Mary Snow, thanks very much for that report.

Running low on fuel more than 200,000 miles from Earth -- the former astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, tells us what it was like at that historic moment 40 years ago today, when Apollo's lunar module touched down on the moon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On this day 40 years ago, the very first human footsteps on the moon. I remember, like all of us who lived through that day, where -- where exactly where I was. I was in Rome, a young man hanging out with a pal, Rick Olstein. We had a glass of wine, watching history unfold on TV in Italian.

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin had a much closer view of it all and I spoke with him just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUZZ ALDRIN, APOLLO 11 ASTRONAUT: The touchdown?

BLITZER: Yes.

ALDRIN: The touchdown -- actual touchdown?

Yes. Yes. It was smooth.

(CROSSTALK)

ALDRIN: It really was. It wasn't bumpy. And -- and when we got out and looked -- looked back, it hadn't penetrated the surface more than a quarter or half an inch. So they -- the landing gear pads, they cushioned the touchdown.

BLITZER: And it was exactly the way you had rehearsed it, planned and trained for?

ALDRIN: No, but it was reality. I mean it was really happening. And in -- in the simulations, we never got quite that low on fuel.

BLITZER: How low on fuel exactly were you at that moment?

ALDRIN: Well, the guy with the dipstick out there that put it in, he came up with about 15 seconds.

BLITZER: Really?

ALDRIN: You hear a lot of different stories. But there's no way to really measure.

BLITZER: How big of a deal was that day?

ALDRIN: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Explain to our viewers...

ALDRIN: We...

BLITZER: ...that fuel issue.

ALDRIN: ...had different phases, about maybe a minute-and-a-half or two minutes of fuel left.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: A real hero.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty, who's got The Cafferty File.

Forty years ago today -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Pretty wild, huh?

The question this hour -- how committed are you to the United States continuing to prosecute the war in Afghanistan?

Brett in Massachusetts: "The decision to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban probably the best decision made by the Bush administration. The Taliban was and still is an official sponsor of terrorism and Al Qaeda. We can't afford to leave Afghanistan to their mercy and give the terrorists their own country from which to plan attacks against America."

Kristoff writes: "We've got to bring the troops home from around the world. The reason extremist groups continue to attack us is because we're in their countries. I guarantee you if one day we woke up and the Chinese were setting up military bases and making their presence known in the US, we'd respond with extremist tactics of our own."

Julian in Boston: "I only wish the best for the captured soldier over there and his family. However, I don't think this should deter us from our goals in Afghanistan. The people of that country remain trapped in poverty and violence as long as the Taliban can enforce its perverted version of Islamic law. Like it or not, we played a big role in putting them in power. Now we must make the commitment to end their oppressive rule."

Oakey in Indiana: "How committed? Zero. Not at all. Revenge for 9/11 would have been getting Osama bin Laden and his gang of religious wackos, not using the attacks to justify the war for oil in Iraq. Engaging in yet another foreign war for the sake of not losing is just more of the same. Bring the troops home. Use the money for health care in the US."

And Larry writes: "I'm puzzled as to why Obama chose to recommit to Afghanistan rather than pulling out altogether. It must be the Democratic weanie factor. The Republicans have dominated this propaganda war for so long, portraying themselves as the tough party that doesn't ever back down. The Dems fall for it and the nonsense and feel compelled to act tough instead of doing the right thing -- get out of Iraq and Afghanistan now."

Lots more e-mails on my blog if you want to read them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we do, Jack.

Thanks.

See you tomorrow.

When the president of the United States says give us a hug, most people comply, but not Bono.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A Moost Unusual snub three years ago -- what's interesting now is the person who saw it.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the dis we missed, though this guy didn't. It happened back in 2006 at a National Prayer Breakfast. Bono told the BBC's Jonathan Ross that he tried to avoid getting a hug from President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FRIDAY NIGHT WITH JONATHAN ROSS," COURTESY BBC/IRISHCENTRAL.COM)

BONO, ENTERTAINER/ACTIVIST: But what I was doing there was I was dodging and trying to hide behind the -- the podium.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: Bono tried to hang back behind the podium. He eventually escaping with a handshake rather than a hug -- though he feels bad about it now because of how much President Bush did in terms of aid to Africa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FRIDAY NIGHT WITH JONATHAN ROSS," COURTESY BBC/IRISHCENTRAL.COM)

BONO: And if I was less of a coward, because he's done -- he did a lot for -- for our issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The funny part was what happened after Bono sat down next to then Senator Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FRIDAY NIGHT WITH JONATHAN ROSS," COURTESY BBC/IRISHCENTRAL.COM)

BONO: He just said, "Nice work with the hug dodge."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Obama caught what we in the media didn't.

A Bush spokesman reacted to the hug dodge by saying: "President Bush didn't initiate all of his historic efforts to get hugs."

Bono and the president have had a wonderful relationship over the years.

Most of the snubs we hear about tend to get downplayed afterwards. For instance, when Jimmy Carter kissed Barbara Bush's cheek but walked right by Bill Clinton. Or when actress Alicia Silverstone ignored Elisabeth Hasselbeck on "The View" and was huggy kissy with everyone else. Hasselbeck said Silverstone later apologized, saying she was just nervous.

Or during President Obama's trip to Russia. Video circulated of the president sticking out his hand and being ignored by supposed Russian leaders.

Oh, yes?

OBAMA: This is my flipper.

MOOS (on camera): Actually, President Obama was introducing American officials to Russia's president. But if you're looking for a snub that's truly a treat, forget Bono. Check out Turbo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This one's from Daniel. This one's from Adam. And this one is from the dog catcher.

Oh, we don't eat treats from the dog catcher?

MOOS: But would Turbo take a treat from Bono? Would Turbo give the president paw?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And this one is from Elizabeth...

MOOS: Jeanne Moos...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- and this one is from the vet.

MOOS: ...CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, you don't eat treats from the vet, either?

MOOS: ...New York.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's the matter, you don't like your vet?

OK.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.