Sebelius Says HHS ‘On Track’ To Implement ACA Insurance Exchanges
On Thursday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assured House lawmakers that her department is "on track" to implement the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges, one day after she offered the same assurance to a Senate panel, Modern Healthcare reports.
Sebelius was testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, which convened a hearing on HHS' budget under President Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget proposal.
However, Sebelius acknowledged that HHS does not have a contingency plan in place if the department does not meet the Oct. 1 deadline to begin enrollment in the online marketplaces.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) -- vice chair of the subcommittee and the lawmaker who queried Sebelius about the backup plan -- said, "You've had three years and billions of dollars ... I think Congress needs to hold your agency accountable," adding that lawmakers would have to reconsider allocating any additional funding for the exchanges if HHS fails to launch the exchanges on Jan. 1, 2014.
Sebelius noted that Congress approved significantly less funding for the implementation of the exchanges than HHS originally anticipated it would need. "I think the [Congressional Budget Office] analysis when the [ACA] was passed was that we'd need about $10 billion in implementation money," but "$1 billion was appropriated," Sebelius said, adding that HHS has "judiciously used those resources" (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 4/18).
In response to criticism by panel Republicans that the ACA has led to higher premium costs and job losses, Sebelius said, "There is absolutely nothing in place in the [ACA] in the year 2013 that would impose any burden on an employer."
She added that any reports of the law's effect on employees' work hours and premiums are "impossible to tie" to the ACA because its "requirements for companies to provide insurance will not take effect until 2014" (Ethridge, CQ Roll Call, 4/18).
Sebelius said there "is a negotiation period either at the state level or with the federal marketplaces about what those rates are, so I think any description of what people will be paying is just invented at this point."
Sebelius added that CBO analysis indicates that competition, the elimination of overhead costs and the availability of subsidies likely will result in "a much more competitive rate and lower prices" (Modern Healthcare, 4/18).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.