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Sebelius Grilled on Health Care, Insurance in Ways and Means

Ernie Shannon's picture

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today characterized private health insurance providers as in a death spiral.

In a contentious hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, Sebelius addressed a number of controversial issues regarding the administration’s Affordable Care Act. She said the deterioration of private health insurance was inevitable whether the new health care law had passed Congress or not.

“The private market is in a death spiral . . . it wouldn’t have mattered if we had passed the Affordable Care Act or not.” The secretary’s comments followed Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill) who asked her about the administration’s assurances that people who liked their current health insurance plan would be able to keep it under the new law.
“How about when the president said you can keep your health care coverage, if you like it? And yet, the reality is, according to Bloomberg News, at least nine percent fewer businesses are offering medical coverage than in 2010. There, the rhetoric didn’t meet the reality did it?”

Sebelius did not argue the numbers.

In another exchange, Republicans on the committee tried to pin Sebelius down regarding whether the mandate requiring every American to purchase insurance or pay a fine is, in fact, a tax on citizens as the administration intends to argue before the Supreme Court in late March. Some supporters of the mandate suggest that if the mandate is dressed in the form of a tax it will be more palatable for the high court to rule constitutional. However, if that is the argument then it flies in the face of the administration’s contention that it has not raised taxes since coming to office in 2009.

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“On the individual mandate penalty, is it a tax?” asked New York Representative Tom Reed.

“I am not a lawyer so I am not equipped to answer that question,” responded Sebelius.

“So when the OMB director stated before a House committee that the mandate is not a tax and President Obama has publicly stated that it is not a tax, yet your legal briefs in the Supreme Court case submitted in your behalf . . . is a tax law. Do you agree with your attorneys assertion that it is a tax provision?” countered Reed.

“I think that it operates the same way a tax would operate, but it is not per se a tax,” Sebelius said in response.

“So it operates as a tax, but it is not a tax, that’s your testimony?” said Reed as he completed his questions.

On another subject, Sebelius assured Congressional representatives from Minnesota that a new tax on medical device manufacturers will not harm their ability to create innovative solutions for people with debilitating health problems. She said that the Affordable Care Act by its ability to offer greater access to health care will drive many more people to these firms. She said the increased business should more than offset the new taxation.