Sebelius Aims To Settle Concerns About Single-Payer Health System
At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Wednesday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the Obama administration does not support taking over the health care system entirely, but hopes to create a public insurance option that would compete with private insurers, the Los Angeles Times reports.
She said, "Dismantling the private market and having an entirely public option, a single-payer system, I think is not something that the president supports."
Sebelius added that a public plan would help cover the nation's uninsured population and help lower the costs and increase the quality of health insurance overall. She said, "Competition helps to promote innovation. It helps promote best practices and also can help to lower costs" (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 5/7).
Sebelius also said that Obama does not support "dismantling the private market," but rather that he wants to "stabilize the private insurance market" (Pear, New York Times, 5/7).
Republican Committee Members' Opposition
During the hearing, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said, "The rhetoric coming from the administration sounds good, sounds familiar: 'If you like what you've got, you can keep it. We're going to have more choice, more competition in health care,'" but "when you look at what is being advocated here, in particular a public plan option, it just seems ... you're embracing contradictory principles" (Los Angeles Times, 5/7).
Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) asked Sebelius if a public plan would put private insurers out of business, causing people to lose their coverage (New York Times, 5/7).
Sebelius pointed to several states that allow government workers to choose between private and public coverage plans, adding, "It can work very effectively, and does work very effectively" (Los Angeles Times, 5/7).
When asked about the possibility of changing the tax exemption granted to businesses providing coverage for workers, Sebelius said that Obama is open to "all serious discussions" on the issue.
However, she said that such a change "has a huge potential of destabilizing the private market and leaving more Americans uninsured."
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has expressed openness to the idea of limiting the exemption.
In addition, politicians from both parties and economists have criticized the exemption as "inequitable because its benefits go disproportionately to people with higher incomes," the New York Times reports.
Critics claim that subsidizing the cost of insurance "insulates people from the cost of care, increases the demand for it and leads to more health spending," according to the New York Times.
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) after the hearing said there is "no way" he would support taxing health benefits. He also said that he would not consider reducing payments to hospitals as a way to fund a health care overhaul (New York Times, 5/7).
On Wednesday, a House Republican health care task force announced several principles that will serve as the foundation for a plan that will be developed over the next few weeks, CongressDaily reports.
In a letter to Republicans scheduled to be sent out Thursday, the task force wrote that it will hold between six and seven briefings over the next two weeks before issuing a final version of its overhaul plan, intended to serve as an alternative to Democratic plans.
According to CongressDaily, the task force's principles include:
- Opposing the creation of a public option;
- Allowing U.S. residents to keep their current insurance plan;
- Keeping the government from intervening in health care decisions; and
- Promoting prevention, wellness and disease-management programs (Edney, CongressDaily, 5/6).
Whitehouse to HELP
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) temporarily will fill a seat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that had been left open with the expectation that Al Franken would be named the winner of a disputed Senate election in Minnesota, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday (Jansen, CQ HealthBeat, 5/6).
According to the Providence Journal, "The appointment came as the panel ... nears completion of backstage work that is expected to yield a committee blueprint for comprehensive health care legislation this spring" (Mulligan, Providence Journal, 5/7).
MSNBC's "The Ed Show" on Wednesday included a discussion with Politico reporter Mike Allen about a memo on health care reform talking points strategist Frank Luntz distributed to Republican lawmakers (Schultz, "The Ed Show," MSNBC, 5/6).NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on congressional efforts to draft overhaul legislation, as well as Sebelius' appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee. The segment includes comments from America's Health Insurance Plans President and CEO Karen Ignagni (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 5/7). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.