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Biden gets grilled on health care at a Jewish deli

This morning, Michael Memoli of the Los Angeles Times, traveling as pool reporter with Joe Biden, filed an encounter between the vice president and a Steve Grossman at Nestor’s Gourmet Deli, near Century Village, a retirement community in south Florida.

Grossman, who earns more than $125K per annum, wanted to know if "Obamacare" would drive up his health insurance. He’s currently paying about $13K a year.

The deli, as Memoli notes, is clearly Jewish. (Matzoh Brie, Eggs Eilat and Eggs Jaffa are menu items.)

Memoli also wonders if Grossman is a plant:

Note on the exchange: the tone of Grossman’s questioning seemed polite, though some of my fellow poolers and I discussed whether he was genuinely looking for answers on the issue or was trying to coax a soundbite, good or bad, out of the VP. But overall the exchange was serious and cordial.

In the subsequent pool report, Memoli quotes a camerawoman as saying that, as Biden turned away to chat with some fans at the next table, Grossman laughed and said "bunch of Democrats."

The full texture of the conversation suggests that Grossman wasn’t up to anything; he had concerns about rising costs of health care under Obama, but he also seemed concerned at the prospect of a Romney presidency rolling back Obamacare protections.

Also, I love this interaction, which is so very south Florida:

He then turned to greet an older man who informed the VP that he had once shaken FDR’s hand. "I’m shaking a heckuva hand," Biden announced. The man later identified himself to the pool as Seymour Maiman, 85, of Ft. Lauderdale. 

Full pool reports below the jump.

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VPOTUS motorcade rolling from Century Village at 1:44pm, arrived 1:54pm at a shopping complex. We’re at Nestor’s Gourmet Deli, what appears to be a Jewish deli, for an OTR.

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VPOTUS spends about a half hour at the deli, which was rather empty when we arrived but became quite the scene after word of the VP’s presence got out. An interesting moment as the VP sat — unplanned — with a group of patrons and engaged in a pretty substantive Q&A with one man about the administration’s new healthcare law. 

Pool arrived set behind the counter at Nestor’s Gourmet Deli, taking advantage of the time before VP arrived to note some of the menu offerings: Matzo Brie; Corned Beef Hash; Jumbo Ham Steak; Eggs Eilat; Bagel Buck-Eye; Eggs Jaffa; as well as French toast and waffles. A deli display included kinishes and the store advertised pastrami sandwhiches.

The VP entered at 2pm sharp, making small talk with a pair of patrons in the entrance way. "I hope you’re supposed to be here because you’re now on camera," Biden informed one.

He asked what was good there, what he should eat, before asking his aides: "Do I have time to eat? Can I have lunch?" 

Rather than order something to go from the counter (which pooler’s hunch was the desired plan), the VP went around to a seating area where there were no more than a dozen people already present. Pool was initially holding behind the counter but soon went out around to the dining area once it became clear he was going to be there for a time. We encounter the VP talking closely with a woman named Jacquie Padow. She got a kiss on the cheek, though the conversation was mostly inaudible.

He then turned to greet an older man who informed the VP that he had once shaken FDR’s hand. "I’m shaking a heckuva hand," Biden announced. The man later identified himself to the pool as Seymour Maiman, 85, of Ft. Lauderdale. 

The VP then took his seat at a long table and invited 6 or 7 of the patrons to sit down with him. Can’t stress enough how this did not seem to be part of the plan, if they still are able to plan these OTR stops for the VP.

"Is this really happening?" asked an excited woman in black medical scrubs. There was a dental office next door, three of the women were wearing the scrubs and a man identifying himself as the dentist joined them at the table as well. 

Where this gets interesting: a man identifying himself to the VP as Steve Grossman, age 39, asks the VP if he can also join them at the table and ask him some questions to help make his decision about voting. The VP welcomes him in, and Grossman sits to the VP’s left.

Grossman says he works in the financial services industry, has two children, and that his healthcare costs are about $13,000 a year.

At this point a waitress comes to take the VP’s order, which was a tuna salad platter and diet coke. 

Meanwhile the women seated to the VP’s right have gotten some loved ones on the phone and VP turns to them to speak with them. "I’m sitting here with your wife — not alone!" Biden says to one man. He learns he’s a veteran, and says "Thank you for your service." Learns he’s in the army, and tells him that’s the branch his son served in. He ends up handing the phone to a staffer to deal with some questions he had. Unclear what they were.

Biden turns back to Grossman and asks him to continue with his question. Grossman wants a deeper explanation of "Obamacare," wondering how it would help him. 

"It will help you dramatically," Biden explains. As an independent contractor, in 2014 he can begin to sign up for an exchange. Walks him through how it works, saying private insurers can participate in it and they have to meet five "safeguards," including no lifetime caps, no restrictions because of preexisting conditions. 

The tuna platter arrives. "Holy mackeral!" the VP exclaims. 

He apologizes for eating and talking (was sipping soup earlier) but goes on to tell Grossman that he’ll "be able to get better healthcare than you had before at a lower cost." Explains that he’ll have more bargaining power now, which would allow him to find the best deal. "That’s the fundamental change." He also goes through what has already gone into effect, when Grossman asked again about the exchanges kicking in until 2014.

Grossman asks if he really thinks it will lower healthcare costs, will he offer a percentage. "There’s been all kinds of estimates," Biden says. "You can get more benefits for less money." He says it’s a choice, he can choose from the competing plans based on his family’s needs from the exchange.

Grossman says, so it’s a state plan? No, it’s private plans participating in an exchange that the state sets up, Biden says. If the state doesn’t have one set up, then there is the federal exchange.

"So if the Republicans take the presidency this year, will all of those things that you put into effect be recounted [sic]?" "All gone," Biden says. "Square one?" "As a matter of fact," Biden says, you’re probably going to pay more, because "we’re back to square one" in terms of the benefits that are already in effect now being also repealed.

At this point the VP’s staff pulls the pool. We were present for about 16 minutes all told. 

Note on the exchange: the tone of Grossman’s questioning seemed polite, though some of my fellow poolers and I discussed whether he was genuinely looking for answers on the issue or was trying to coax a soundbite, good or bad, out of the VP. But overall the exchange was serious and cordial. Will effort if possible more direct quotes on the Grossman-Biden exchange, audio was spotty but suspecting TV colleagues may have picked up some more.

As we left, we encountered a mass of people jammed into the entrance way, and the USSS was wanding others outside to let them in as we passed by.

VP’s staff later provided additional names of those at the table: Rafaela Patten, a medical assistant, sat across from the VP. She’s the one who asked, "is this really happening?"

Sitting next to Patten, Christina Petreuzziello, also a medical assistant. Lucy Faires, who was wearing blue scrubs, sat to the VP’s right. It was her husband, a veteran named Eduardo, who the VP spoke with. 

Motorcade rolled out at 2:34 pm heading to next event in Tamarac. 

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More Grossman/VP exchange quotes 

The following verbatim is courtesy of the incomparable Carrie Dann of NBC, who was shooting the scene at the deli from closer range.

She informs that as the VP was interacting with others at the table, Grossman nodded in her direction: "Bunch of Democrats," and laughed. 

The Q&A:

Biden: "So what’s the question?"

Grossman: "Regarding health care,"

Biden: "Yep."

Grossman: A minimum of 12,000 a year where do you feel that Obamacare program that started to be instituted will come into play and how will that help  -

Biden: It will help you, it will help you dramatically. Again, I don’t know what your income, but if your income is below $125,000

Grossman: It’s not

Biden: It’s above 125?

Grossman: Yes it is

Biden: Well you will still be okay. you can now go into an exchange, in 2014, in 2013 there’s an exchange. There’s a reason why if you did the same thing you’re doing now for Citibank your health care would be a lot better. And the reason is they can barter because they got 125k employees. So what these exchanges will do is you’ll be able to enter into an exchange, with let’s say there are, there are probably somewhere in excess of 2m people in Florida who are either independent contractors or they’re in health care plans that they think are too expensive. And what you’re going to do is they’ll all sign up for this 1 exchange, all the people in the state who want to be in the exchange. And any insurance company that sells insurance in that exchange has to do 5 things.(crosstalk) One of which is that they have to make sure that pre-existing conditions are covered. They have to make sure that there is no lifetime limit on your insurance, they have to make sure that they built all these safeguards. So every insurance company that’s competing (food comes – "holy mackerel!")  So anyway, you will be able to get better health care than you get now in terms of cost for a lot less money.

Grossman: Will my bill go down?

Biden: Your bill will go down and the reason it will go down is you will be right now

Grossman: And that’s in 2014? So this stuff really hasn’t come into effect yet ?

Biden: Yes, it hasn’t. and the reason it hasn’t is we want to make sure that we paid for everything we said the health care bill would do. What’s gone into effect so far is if you have children … 

Grossman: … They’re covered until …

Biden: Yeah if they have a preexisting condition, et cetera you have much more bargaining power in the exchange. So the exchange says we’re not going to pay more than a penny for this. we’re not going to pay a penny and a quarter. they say to you you’re paying a penny and quarter, ask you where you gonna go? you’re out there by yourself, you have no bargaining power. that’s the fundamental thing that will change for you

Grossman: Is there a percentage decrease that you anticipate will come from this? because it seems like right now that it’s highway robbery

Biden: There’s been all kinds of estimates that, what it will save. the best way to look at it is if you could find a company that had a similar number of employees what they’re paying for the coverage is what you’d pay for it. it’s hard to make a generalization, it depends on the size of the exchange, how many people are competing, how many companies compete.

Grossman: But you do believe that it will decrease cost? And it will improve in terms of the benefits?

Biden: Well yes because you can get more benefits for less money. so let’s say that you had a low benefit plan now that was a high cost. you wanted to keep the same low benefit plan again well then you can get that same plan for considerably less cost. if you have a low benefit plan now at a high cost and you said now what you want is a very high benefit plan the cost will still go down but not as much as if you kept the same low benefit plan. So it’s choice, you get to choose among those insurance companies that are competing as part of the exchanges.  so people say well why would they be part of the exchange, well you’ve got 500k, 200k you know, a million, depending on the size of the state people in the exchange.

Grossman: so it’s a state plan not a federal plan.

Biden: No it’s federal. no no excuse me it’s a private plan, the state sets up the exchange and it has to meet certain criteria. If the state doesn’t set the exchange up, then the federal government will set the exchange up, HHS will set it up. so, and already states are beginning to set up these exchanges to get ready for the implementation of the law.

Grossman: so if the republicans take the presidency this year, will all those things you’d put into effect be recounted and no longer exist, theyre all gone, we’re back at square one, i’m at the same amount of money the same crappy insurance

Biden: you’re probably going to be (inaud)  all the stuff now that is happening, benefits other people on the plan that all gets wiped out

Grossman: so you’re back to square one … 

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