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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

No Bail Decision in Pistorius Case; Examining Health Care "Charge Master"; CDC: Adult Obesity Rates Finally Plateau; Octavia Spencer: Life after Oscars

Aired February 21, 2013 - 08:30   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning: focus is on the breaking news in the Oscar Pistorius murder case.

The state right now is delivering its closing arguments in the bail hearing. We've learned, though, that there will be no decision made today about bail. The court will close in just about 30 minutes.

In its closing statement, the state's arguing that Pistorius's lawyers have not explained the gun and the cell phones on the carpet in front of the shower; haven't explained the cartridges in the bathroom that the state says supports their argument that the killing was deliberate. They're also asking why would she take a cell phone with her into the bathroom at 3:00 in the morning.

Meantime, the magistrate is questioning how people would react if in fact Pistorius, who's also known of course as the Blade Runner, how people would react if in fact he were to be released. The defense said people would be shocked if he were not released. The magistrate also brought up some evidence of previous, I guess you could call it, previous bad acts that have been alleged to happen and pulled off by Pistorius: threats to break someone's legs, allegations of discharging a gun at a restaurant/

And then, about 40 minutes ago, there was some kind of a threat, undetermined the nature of it specifically, but some kind of a threat that took place outside of the courthouse, and that cleared the folks inside of the courthouse for a very brief time. Pistorius was taken back down to the holding cell, then brought back up again. The magistrate back in, and as I've mentioned, they've got about 30 more minutes to wrap up this bail hearing that will not result in actually knowing whether or not he's going to get bail.

Let's get right to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, who has been updating the story for us all morning. It won't end in knowing what his bail will -- if he'll get bail or not, but what is the sense of how it feels going into this courtroom today?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it feels for everyone that it's up and down. I think going in this morning, people really thought that perhaps he would get bail and he would be walking out. I think that was the general feeling.

But as we've heard through the day, the prosecution earlier in the day laying out that they fear that if he's released, he could flee the country, reading a magazine article where he talks about his home or where he lives in Italy several months of the year where he's doing his running training. And the prosecution raising that, then it swings back again where the defense unpicks the prosecution case and the evidence put forward by the police, saying there isn't sufficient evidence here, that there are no eyewitnesses; this doesn't even stand up to a murder charge.

And now just really, in the last few minutes, hearing what the magistrate has been doing, raising these concerns about Oscar Pistorius' past alleged acts of violence, threatening someone with physical harm, a pistol going off in a restaurant. The expectation, I think, generally is that he probably will get released.

But listening to the magistrate, the magistrate is the one that's been trying to, if you will, raise the concerns, pick holes in what the defense is saying, asking very, very telling a question -- if Steenkamp was in the bathroom, why didn't she call out? That seems to have been one of the issues he was pushing very strongly. Why didn't she call out when she heard Pistorius saying, shouting or warning about a burglar? So the magistrate here being very, very cautious, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And updating us this morning, thank you, Nic. Appreciate it. We should also mention that Robyn Curnow, as I have been telling you, has been inside that courthouse, inside that courtroom, and she says the magistrate is also asking, could in fact the accused, Oscar Pistorius, orchestrate the crime scene, if you will, after the shooting? Was that something that was possible to do?

This is as this bail hearing continues, now the third day. We know now that it will not be resolved, we will not know today if in fact Oscar Pistorius will get bail or not.

Lots more happening as well that is not to this particular case out of South Afirca, and Christine's got that for us.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's a busy day today. Newly released 911 calls from a shooting and carjacking spree in Orange County, California, that left four people dead including the gunman. It began early Tuesday morning when police say 20-year-old Ali Sayyid fatally shot a young woman at his parents' home. His mother then frantically dialed 911.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: 911, what's your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think somebody is shot.

911 OPERATOR: Take a deep breath and tell me what's going on, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please come. 911 OPERATOR: Explain to me what's going on, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't talk. Just come.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROMANS: Police say Sayyid then committed three carjackings, killing two drivers in the process. The rampage ended when Sayyid took his own life. His motive is unknown, although "The L.A. Times" reporting that, this morning, that he spent much of his time playing violent video games.

Drew Peterson expected to find out today how long he'll be behind bars. The ex-cop in Illinois was found guilty last year of killing his third wife. Peterson's defense team is making a last ditch request for a new trial. Peterson faces up to 60 years in prison.

An Oscar-nominated Palestinian filmmaker arriving in Los Angeles for Sunday's Oscar ceremony was detained, along with his family, by immigration officials who questioned his Oscar invite. Emad Burnat says he was held for about an hour before they released him. His film, "Five Broken Cameras," is up for Best Documentary Feature. He says his family's detention was an unpleasant experience but the kind Palestinians face every day in the West Bank.

A new video gives fans an idea of what it feels like to wear the new Google Glasses. This interactive eyewear shows you the maps, the weather, even sends your text messages for you; it even translates. Want to give them a try? Google is looking for quite bold, creative individuals, it says, to test them out, but it will cost you $1,500.

O'BRIEN: What, you get to test drive them but pay them to test drive them?

ROMANS: I guess. I don't know. That's what you call building anticipation, right?

Ever wonder why women talk more than men? Two words: language proteins. University of Maryland researchers --

O'BRIEN: More to say.

ROMANS: -- higher levels of the FoxP2 protein are in the female brain. These researchers found those with more FoxP2 in their brains are chattier in humans that happen to be women. But they found in rats, it's men, it's the male rats.

OK, it's been previously claimed that women speak about 20,000 words daily, 13,000 more than men. And I can't prove it but I think we talk faster, too.

O'BRIEN: Talk faster and have more relevant things to say. I feel very comfortable with this research.

CHRIS FRATES, REPORTER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Guys only speak 7,000 words a day? ROMANS: 7,000 less I think.

FRATES: OK.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk about health care because it's expensive and despite the president's sweeping health care legislation, medical costs continue to rise every year in the United States. "Time" magazine has a brand new cover story; it's called "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us," and it takes this incredible and exhaustive and look at exactly why medical bills are piling up so high for so many Americans. According to the report which was published in partnership with CNN, the U.S. is going to spend roughly $2.8 trillion, yes, with a T, on health care this year. That's 27 percent more per capita than other developed nations, which amounts to an extra $750 billion.

Steven Brill is a "Time" magazine contributor. He's the author of that new cover story, and joins us this morning. This story is such an intense shocker because it really drills down into the actual costs in your bill, and a lot of people, I think -- all the debates we've had about medical care, right, focus on who is going to pay? Is the person going to pay, is the insurance company going to pay, is the government going to pay? But you really look at why are we paying so much? Why are bills so expensive?

STEVEN BRILL, "TIME" CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's right, I just sort of stumbled into this. I was looking for another writing project and about six months ago, somebody told me about a medical bill for having gone to the emergency room. He had slipped and fallen and cut his face, and the bill was $21,000.

So I just wondered, well, why does it cost so much in this country? So I just decided to follow the money. And what I found is we basically live in two economies in this country. There's all of us, we have one economy, we read about unemployment, we read about how things are tough, how earnings are tough. And then there's the health care economy, which is prospering, it's thriving, adding jobs all the time, everybody's making money. GE is making money on CAT scans; your favorite local hospital, which you think is non-profit hospital, is making tens and hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

O'BRIEN: Let's get back to that one for a moment, because that was really stunning for me. First, I want to ask you about that charge master. I mean, early on in this article, you hone in on this thing called the "charge master", which is like, I guess, a schedule of fees.

BRILL: It's this 7,000, 10,000 item schedule of fees, so everything that happens to you at the hospital -- whether it's outpatient or inpatient or even in a lab -- has a charge. If someone hands you a tissue, that might be $1 or $2. If you get a routine -- the blood test that is totally routine, which costs the hospital basically nothing, that could be $150 at one hospital; it could be $250 at another hospital. Nobody can explain why.

O'BRIEN: You focus on a guy named Steven D., and he has this bill that you walk through, and you say he has these diabetes test strips. And he -- the hospital charges him for 88 strips. He ends up being charged $1,584. If you were to buy them on Amazon, could you get 100, so like 12 more, for 55 bucks.

BRILL: Ah, the wonders of -

ROMANS: Is that the labor in it, though? Are they building in the labor of the nurse and all that, or that's actually the raw cost of the strips?

BRILL: No, no. They say, well, you're in a hospital, you're getting all this care, but in his case they charged a couple thousand dollars a day just for the hospital room. So you would think they would throw in the Tylenol and the test strips with the couple thousand dollars.

O'BRIEN: Another example, Niacin pills. A Niacin pill can be bought at the drugstore, you report, for about for five cents. He is paying 24 bucks a pill. I guess I was stunned by that.

BRILL: Yes, and that adds up.

O'BRIEN: Yes, really, really fast. The gap, I mean we get it, that they're going to pay, they reimburse hospitals, right? For Medicare one amount, and it's often lower, hospitals and doctors will tell you, less than it's actually costing them. But is it as much as that gap that we see?

BRILL: No, no. An insurance company will also get a discount off the charge master, but your insurance company will get a 40 percent discount, maybe a 50 percent discount. But a 50 percent discount off of a $25 bill for Niacin is still a lot of money for the hospital.

So what I found was that hospital executives -- in every town in the country, there's a hospital. And you think of the hospital as your favorite non-profit charity. There's a fund-raiser every year and everybody feels good about going to the fund-raiser. The hospital CEOs are making $2, $3, $5 million a year. The hospitals are making exorbitant profits, and the fund-raiser you go to probably accounts for one half of 1 percent of their revenue. The real revenue is from the Niacin pills, but it's also from the cancer drugs where they might charge the patient $10,000 or $11,000. It might cost them $4,000, and it might cost the drug company $100 or $200.

O'BRIEN: Stunning. I mean, I think this report is actually just breathtaking when you go through sort of the basic math. I mean, you really walk through the most basic math of what's in your bill.

BRILL: We don't have a free market. We act as if we have a free market, unlike every other developed country in the world, but there's just nothing free about it because you and I have no choice in any of those buying decisions.

O'BRIEN: The hospitals would argue that they have to do these things otherwise they're going to get sued, right? They have to give you the more expensive test, because if they don't and you die, your estate will -- BRILL: Well, no one is making them charge $25 for a Niacin pill. That has nothing to do with malpractice. They have a good point about malpractice reform, but not when it comes to charging $25 for a pill.

TED SIMON, INTERNATIONAL LAW EXPERT:: What is the alternative for the patient? You're a captive audience at that moment.

O'BRIEN: And probably terrified.

ROMANS: And sick.

O'BRIEN: And sick.

BRILL: You're terrified or you're not even think being it. They hand you a pill or they say gee, you need a CAT scan.

FRATES: Steve, you hear a lot of politicians in Washington saying, well, the health care law is going to take care of that. It's going to control costs and we're going to finally see that. What did your reporting show?

BRILL: Obamacare does nothing to control costs. What Obamacare does is it shifts sort of the burden of who pays for insurance. If anything, it's going to cost more because you're putting more of these people into the market, because they're going to have insurance, but it's going to raise insurance rates and then the government is going to subsidize insurance for people who can't afford it. But Obamacare does nothing to take a $13,000 cancer wonder drug, which in Europe would sell for $2,000, it does nothing about that.

O'BRIEN: Steven Brill is a "Time" contributor. I'm telling you, this is an absolutely stunning article. It's a must read for anybody who has ever visited even the emergency room for tripping and falling and bumping their head. Thank you for talking with us about it. We certainly appreciate it.

BRILL: Happy to do it. Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Our pleasure.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, the war on childhood obesity, is it easing up? There's a new federal report out about that. We'll take a look.

And then she took home an Oscar for her work in "The Help," so who does Octavia Spencer think will be the big winner at the Academy Awards on Sunday? Going to chat with her about that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT.

Are we finally getting the message about obesity? There's a new report from the Centers for Disease Control, and says that adult obesity rates have finally plateaued after years and years of increases. Even more encouraging, fewer of their calories are coming from fast food. The CDC also found that kids are consuming fewer calories than they did a decade ago. Seven percent fewer for boys, 4 percent fewer for girls.

Obesity rates for children have been flat over the last few years. Experts say the new report could be an indication those numbers might be starting to trend downward, and others say that while the numbers are still encouraging it isn't enough. Plateauing is not exactly something to cheer about in a nation that has a lot of overweight people.

So the question I would ask our panel this morning is why? Is it that Michelle Obama is actually getting out there and raising the issue? Is it companies saying that they're going to try to fight obesity because they really need to have a healthy population that they're marketing to?

FRATES: It feels like a combination of those things because you do have a lot of the big soda makers, a lot of the fast food guys talking about responsibility and consumption and we have 100 calorie soda. You have childhood diabetes has become a big epidemic and there's a lot more attention around that. And that overweight children have so much more of a chance of becoming diabetic very early on and the health care costs as we were talking about that goes along with that.

So it seems like a combination of things but at least it's not going up anymore.

O'BRIEN: Right.

ROMANS: And the Happy Meal today is a different happy meal than from two years ago. It really is. I mean if you're a parent who gets this, as a treat every now and then for your kids.

O'BRIEN: I love Happy Meals.

ROMANS: I know, you know, the fries are smaller, they automatically include the apples now and public schools are doing a little bit better job with teachers and parents I would say with the schools really pushing the more healthy snacks and -- and a well-rounded meal before you get to school.

I mean there's a better awareness but we do have a lot more to do. I mean you've got -- you've got to pull these numbers down, still.

O'BRIEN: Right, it's like the numbers have plateaued but they were never good numbers to begin with.

All right, we've got to take a break. Still ahead we're going to talk to Octavia Spencer. You remember she earned an Oscar for her fabulous performance in "The Help" last year. So who is going to be the lucky winner this time around? She's going to help us handicap the race, this Sunday's Academy Awards nominees -- that's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Just three more days until the Oscars. Last year first- time nominee Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for her role as the outspoken maid Minnie in "The Help". Here's a little clip of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OCTAVIA SPENCER, ACTRESS: I need to see you square on at all times. I got to come up with the questions, too?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, let's begin with -- with where you were born.

SPENCER: (INAUDIBLE) Mississippi on my great auntie's sofa. Next.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: This year she returns as a presenter. It's so nice to have you.

SPENCER: Thank you, it's nice to be here.

O'BRIEN: There must be much more pressure as someone who is a nominee than someone who is presenting but I have to imagine even presenting has got to be stressful, yes?

SPENCER: There is no stress attached to presenting, because you get to show up and see all the people that you love.

O'BRIEN: But you got the red carpet, you've got to have the whole -- they're going to do the whole look at what you're wearing, was it good fashion pick, was it a bad fashion pick?

SPENCER: Well that's why you pick really, really smart. You pick the right people and they help you get -- I tell you, it's a different season. I'm having a ball this season.

O'BRIEN: It's has been a really just fun this time around because you're not a nominee.

SPENCER: It's been fun, yes.

O'BRIEN: When you look at the categories, I mean, I'll them out there you have Amy Adams is up for "The Masters" Sally Field for "Lincoln", Anne Hathaway for "Les Miserables" and Helen Hunt for "The Sessions" and Jacki Weaver in "Silver Linings Playbook". I mean do you hazard -- like who -- who is your favorite in this?

SPENCER: Well, I love all of them, but I have to tell you -- I have to tell you Sally Field made me, she taught me something about Mary Todd Lincoln that I didn't already know. And you know behind every great president is a great wife who is running things. And I think you know the slaves were freed that year, so there you go, I love Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln.

O'BRIEN: All right so I think that's your way of saying you're rooting for her even though you're being very diplomatic about it. Did winning an Oscar change your life? SPENCER: It definitely changed my career but my life is still the same. I don't know that I could you know not have the same life but it definitely changed how I'm perceived and the choices that I get to make. I'll tell you that.

O'BRIEN: What choices -- what choice are you getting to make now?

SPENCER: Well, let's just say I get to drive the bus, you know? And that's really wonderful. It's a great bus. It's a luxury bus and I you know I get to make choices. I have a say, you know, a lot more of a say in what I get to do and I get to, you know, choose projects that will, you know, I don't know that resonate with me and that I sort of have some sort of bond with and to. And you don't really necessarily get that when you're an actor for hire. You just -- you know.

O'BRIEN: You're lucky to have.

SPENCER: You hope. Yes.

O'BRIEN: So you talked a lot about and we've talked a lot about sort of race in Hollywood, weight in Hollywood. How has that been for you or is it once you win an Oscar you're sort of out of that discussion, you're now here and if doesn't matter for you.

SPENCER: No I don't think you ever get out of that discussion. Because as an African-American woman I'm aware that there are fewer roles for women of color and then I'm a very specific type, so weight issues, race issues will always be there and if you allow them to get to you or if you allow them to affect you, then yes they affect you.

But my thing is I have so many other things to worry about, I can't worry about other people's perception of me. You know if -- you beat yourself up worse than anybody, so why would you allow someone else's perception of you to -- to factor in. But yes it's definitely -- definitely different, I'll tell you that.

O'BRIEN: Yes you started working with a weight loss company and you look amazing.

SPENCER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You look fabulous.

SPENCER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: So is that you know does that change sort of the roles you're getting now or does it -- do you feel that it's more, if you're a fine actor you're a fine actor and it doesn't matter?

SPENCER: I don't think it's going to change the roles that I -- that I pursue. I just choose according to what resonates with me, but as far as Sensa, I mean I'm -- I'm thrilled about it because it has changed my life and not necessarily my lifestyle, because I needed something to help me get healthy. I needed to deal with that, and that's something that I've been kind of doing for the past ten years very, very slowly. And I needed something to take it up a notch to not be as slow and that's what I love that I was able to integrate it into my life and see results rather quickly, quickly by my time clock.

O'BRIEN: Well you look fabulous and you're a good spokesperson for Sensa.

SPENCER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We wish you the very best. I'm still curious to see what you're going to wear. And what kind of category are you presenting?

SPENCER: Well -- I'm presenting the best supporting actor.

O'BRIEN: OK.

ROMANS: Wow.

FRATES: OK.

O'BRIEN: So what are you going to wear? Tell us -- who are you wearing, Octavia? Come on.

SPENCER: I -- I will tell you this, I'm definitely wearing underwear.

O'BRIEN: Well that puts you in the category in some ways that a lot of people don't so that is breaking news when it comes to Oscar fashion. It's so nice to have you.

SPENCER: Thank you so much for having me.

O'BRIEN: We can't wait to see you in a nice calm and relaxed way, less tension as a presenter at the Oscars on Sunday. Nice to have.

SPENCER: Yes, thank you. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We've got to take a short break. "End Point" is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody.

An update to our breaking news this morning.

We're not going to find out today if Oscar Pistorius is going to get bailed. The state is delivering its closing arguments, it'll wrap up -- wrap up rather in just about two minutes, then the day ends for the court. The state just said that Pistorius shows total lack of realization of what he's done, that he's a man willing to and ready to fire and kill and that Pistorius' version of what happened is improbable.

The magistrate has been questioning whether or not it's possible that Pistorius could orchestrate the scene after the shooting in terms of the positioning of the gun and the cell phones, we're also expecting a police news conference to address the report that the lead investigator in the case is facing reinstated murder charges -- attempted murder charges I believe from 2009.

So much more on all of these developments that we have gotten today as court wraps up. It is 4:00 in the afternoon there, coming up on 4:00 in the afternoon there in South Africa.

All right, we've got just a few seconds now for our "End Point" of the morning. Why do start for us, Chris, what's your takeaway of the day?

FRATES: My big takeaway is hero worship and that's what you have with Oscar Pistorius. This idea that we put this guy on a pedestal, he might not have been the best guy off the field but he was a guy who, you know, was very good at what he did and so we kind of ignored a lot of the early warning signs here.

And also on a personal note I want to wish my dad a happy birthday.

O'BRIEN: Oh, very sweet. The fact that he is a hero in South Africa, will that play a role in what kind of a sentence, if any, he gets and what kind of bail, if any, he gets?

SIMON: I think we're ahead of the game when we talk about sentence. We're only at bail. And I think my take --

O'BRIEN: Says the defense attorney. Carry on, counselor.

SIMON: Thank you. But my takeaway from this is whatever kind of case it may be, when it involves criminal law in a prosecution, whether it's in South Africa or the United States we can't lose sight of the most important principles, presumption of innocence, burden of proof and beyond reasonable doubt. And I think when you put those into play in this case, there are substantial arguments that bode well for him and he should be given bail. He's made them and he could show them.

O'BRIEN: We will be watching it as the bail hearing continues because they were not able to resolve it today. Thanks, guys, I certainly appreciate it. Always nice to have you in to talk about the law.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins now. I'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning.