Sebelius Discusses ACA Insurance Exchanges, Promotion With Media
On Monday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hosted a teleconference with the media on a wide range of issues relating to the ACA's health insurance exchanges and the Obama administration's efforts to promote the law, the Washington Post's "Wonkblog" reports (Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 8/5).
Sebelius criticized opponents of the ACA for their efforts to discourage enrollment in the new marketplaces -- which are scheduled to begin enrollment in about eight weeks -- by releasing "factually incorrect" information. For example, some state officials have falsely suggested that insurance rates will rise for consumers through the marketplaces, she said.
Sebelius declined to identify the states, but noted that "in one case, [officials] were averaging premiums across the board and suggesting that new target would be what people would pay." In another state, officials discussed rates that HHS officials were "not quite sure what exactly the estimates were based on," Sebelius added.
In recent weeks, officials in Georgia, Indiana and Ohio have indicated that premium rates in the exchanges will be higher than current rates (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 8/5).
Sebelius said that such "erroneous information is being advanced as if these are final rates ... and this is what consumers will be paying. And that's just not accurate" (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/5). She promised that HHS would "clarify once and for all what these rates are," by releasing comprehensive data by September (Morgan, Reuters, 8/5).
However CQ HealthBeat reports that an HHS official -- who spoke during the conference call, but requested that he or she not to be identified -- clarified Sebelius' statement, saying that full premium information would be ready by Oct. 1, not Sept. 1. The official added that the rates are being determined on a case-by-case basis with each insurer (CQ HealthBeat, 8/5).
Obama Administration's Outreach Efforts
Sebelius also rejected reports that the Obama administration is working with a large marketing budget similar to those of movie studios or Apple to promote the law, but she noted that the administration intends to use all available resources to raise awareness and educate the public about the exchanges, Reuters reports (Reuters, 8/5).
She said that HHS had lost $15.5 billion as a result of the automatic cuts under sequestration but that the department has attempted to protect the outreach efforts from the cuts. Sebelius said that the budget reductions have made travel plans for HHS personnel "more complicated" but that they have not limited them, "Wonkblog" reports ("Wonkblog," Washington Post, 8/5). She noted that she still is scheduled to visit several cities -- including Atlanta, San Antonio and Austin, Texas -- in the next two weeks to talk about the ACA.
In addition, Sebelius announced that HHS this week will launch the "Champions for Coverage" initiative, aimed at organizations that are interested in working with the department to raise awareness about the exchanges. An HHS official said the department is accepting applications from organizations that want to serve as "Certified Application Counselors," adding that more than 1,000 individuals have signed up to attend webinars to learn about the process (CQ HealthBeat, 8/5).
Other Exchange Updates
Sebelius confirmed that HHS and the administration are making a concerted effort to embrace the word "marketplaces" to describe the insurance exchanges in outreach and marketing material, mainly because the word exchange "meant very little in English and less in Spanish. No one knew what we were talking about" ("Wonkblog," Washington Post, 8/5).
Sebelius also announced that training grants for the law's navigator program will be available in a few weeks (Robeznieks, Modern Healthcare, 8/5).
Finally, Sebelius assured reporters that HHS is "on target" and will be ready to launch the exchanges, which are scheduled to begin open enrollment Oct. 1 ("Wonkblog," Washington Post, 8/5).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.