AUDIO Q&A: Biden talks health care, energy and highways

Thursday, October 9, 2008 | 4:02 p.m. CDT; updated 11:43 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 3, 2009

Public life reporter Joel Walsh talks about interviewing vice presidential candidate Joe Biden in Jefferson City on Thursday. Walsh had prepared for a 30-minute interview then learned that he would have just seven minutes with Biden. Walsh talks about focusing on the most important issues to Missouri and what Biden had to say about the Tigers.

JEFFERSON CITY — Between campaign stops in Liberty and Jefferson City on Thursday, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden made himself available for a brief interview with the Missourian. The following are Sen. Biden's responses to three questions concerning health care, energy policy and funding for interstate highways in Missouri.

Q Senator, in 2005, Medicaid cuts in Missouri left thousands of families without coverage. What, if anything, can the federal government do to restore funding for Medicaid recipients and to make health care more affordable for residents in this state?

A Biden's answer was threefold.

"One, we've got to drive down costs of health care," the Delaware senator said, citing estimates that if the health care industry were modernized through electronic record-keeping and required coverage of pre-existing conditions, Americans would save between $150 billion and $170 billion each year. Biden said his party's plan calls for a roughly $5 billion investment and would directly reduce the cost of medical care for "average" citizens nationwide.

In regard to Medicare, the federal health insurance program for citizens older than 65, Biden said costs could be reduced by requiring health insurance providers to cover preventative care for chronic diseases. For instance, he said, someone with diabetes should be able to visit a dietitian without paying completely out of pocket.

"A whole range of chronic diseases eat up a gigantic amount of the health-care costs," Biden said, estimating that "gigantic amount" is about 72 percent of health-care spending.

Biden further suggested providing insurance to a pool of 30 million to 50 million Americans who feel they are paying too much or don't have access to health care.

"Anybody who has a health care policy now would be able to keep it," Biden said. Similar to the system afforded to "senators, congressmen and federal employees," Biden said citizens could choose whatever insurance company they want and choose what benefits package they would like, "and pay accordingly." He said a larger pool of insured people would have more leverage in negotiating with insurance companies, also driving down costs.

Q AmerenUE, the largest electric provider in the state, has begun the application process to build a nuclear power plant in Callaway County. Is that a type of facility you would support, and why or why not?

A "I don't know enough about this particular application," Biden said, but he added that "Barack Obama and I support safe nuclear energy — new, renewable nuclear energy."

He noted an Obama/Biden plan to invest $15 billion per year in "alternative energy" but said the problem is determining how to "reconstitute" — or dispose — of nuclear waste.

"We want to build new nuclear power plants, but we want to make sure there's a rational disposal process and that the standards are tougher than they had been on the construction of these facilities."

Q. Interstate 70, which you are probably traveling on right now, is one of the most highly trafficked and arguably the most dangerous highway in Missouri. As the state legislature looks at funding options to expand I-70 and I-44 to make them safer, what could your administration do to support improvements to federal interstates in Missouri?

A. "I'm not telling you what we could do. I'll tell you what we will do," Biden said before outlining his ticket's commitment to invest $60 billion in infrastructure improvements nationwide over the next 10 years.

Biden said that money would be used to "make highways safer" and to repair bridges in America. It would add jobs to states like Missouri, where, he said, a state unemployment rate of 6.7 percent is the highest in 17 years.

"From the laborer to the engineer who handles these projects, the average income is $50,000 a year," Biden said. "That grows the middle class."

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