Oba­macare not for me, Se­be­lius says Top health care of­fi­cial prefers em­ployer plan

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR. AND BEN WOLF­GANG

Pres­i­dent Obama’s top health care of­fi­cial apol­o­gized Wed­nes­day for the bro­ken Oba­macare web­site and said it would take another month to fix — but even as she de­fended the law as a good deal for most Amer­i­cans, she said there was no rea­son for her to have to pur­chase cov­er­age from the ex­changes.

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius also was on the de­fen­sive over Mr. Obama’s 2010 vow that his health care pro­gram wouldn’t force Amer­i­cans out of their ex­ist­ing insurance.

Mr. Obama waded into that fight late in the day, us­ing a cam­paign-style speech in Bos­ton to parse his prom­ise, say­ing that while some may be kicked off their plans, they will end up get­ting bet­ter deals from their insurance com­pa­nies.

“One of the things health re­form was de­signed to do was to help not only the unin­sured but also the un­der­in­sured,” Mr. Obama said. “Be­fore the Af­ford­able Care Act, the worst of th­ese [health care] plans rou­tinely dropped thou­sands of Amer­i­cans ev­ery sin­gle year. This wasn’t just bad for the folks who had th­ese poli­cies, it was bad for all of us be­cause when tragedy strikes and folks can’t pay their med­i­cal bills, every­body else picks up the tab.”

Both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Se­be­lius said they take ul­ti­mate blame for the early prob­lems with the Health­Care.gov web­site, which was sup­posed to be the main way for many Amer­i­cans to buy insurance from state-based health car ex­changes. The site went live Oct. 1 but has been plagued by glitches. It crashed even as Mrs. Se­be­lius was tes­ti­fy­ing to the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

“Hold me ac­count­able for the de­ba­cle. I’m re­spon­si­ble,” Mrs. Se­be­lius told an­gry Repub­li­cans dur­ing her ap­pear­ance, which marked the first time she has an­swered to Congress for the web­site’s prob­lems.

Calls for Mrs. Se­be­lius to re­sign took a back seat to com­plaints about who knew what — and when — about the flawed web­site and sto­ries of con­stituents who have lost their health care plans and could face higher premi­ums.

Law­mak­ers also re­lied on back­handed hu­mor and per­sonal chal­lenges to make their points.

Rep. Cory Gard­ner, Colorado Repub­li­can, wanted to know if Mrs. Se­be­lius would en­roll her­self in a health care plan on one of the Oba­macare ex­changes.

She re­fused be­cause she has em­ployer-based cov­er­age from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“I would gladly join the ex­change if I didn’t have af­ford­able cov­er­age in my work­place,” she tes­ti­fied.

But Mrs. Se­be­lius ap­peared to con­fuse the law when she told law­mak­ers, “If I have avail­able em­ployer-based cov­er­age, I am not el­i­gi­ble for the mar­ket.”

Health­Care.gov tells users that if they are el­i­gi­ble for job-based insurance, they “can con­sider switch­ing to a mar­ket­place plan” but may put their sub­si­dies at risk.

The site says “you won’t qual­ify for lower costs based on your in­come un­less the job-based insurance is un­af­ford­able or doesn’t meet min­i­mum re­quire­ments. You also may lose any con­tri­bu­tion your em­ployer makes to your premi­ums.”

Mrs. Se­be­lius gave her tes­ti­mony a day af­ter one of her agency chiefs, Mar­i­lyn Taven­ner, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices, tes­ti­fied to another House com­mit­tee.

Both women laid some of the blame for the web­site’s prob­lems on the lead com­pany they hired to help build the site.

But the ven­dors have said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion did not test the sys­tem “end to end” un­til days be­fore its launch, and a CMS memo said the web­site hadn’t com­pleted se­cu­rity test­ing as of Sept. 27.

“From a se­cu­rity per­spec­tive, the as­pects of the sys­tem that were not tested due to the on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment, ex­posed a level of un­cer­tainty that can be deemed as a high risk for the [Fed­er­ally Fa­cil­i­tated Mar­ket­place],” the memo said.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse for the ad­min­is­tra­tion, web­site prob­lems have been eclipsed this week by con­cerns that many Amer­i­cans in the in­di­vid­ual mar­ket will not be able to keep their health care plans, as Mr. Obama had promised.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Fred Up­ton, Michi­gan Repub­li­can, said Mr. Obama’s vow has been cast into doubt by a flood of can­cel­la­tion notices na­tion­wide.

Mrs. Se­be­lius told law­mak­ers that if a plan was in place in 2010, when Congress passed the leg­is­la­tion, then it could have been grand­fa­thered in as long as the com­pa­nies didn’t make ma­jor changes.

“Insurance com­pa­nies can­cel in­di­vid­ual poli­cies year in and year out,” she said. “They’re a one-year con­tract with in­di­vid­u­als. They are not life­time plans.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius apol­o­gized Wed­nes­day for the bro­ken Oba­macare web­site and said it would take another month to fix — but even as she de­fended the law as a good deal for most Amer­i­cans, she said there was no rea­son for her to have to pur­chase cov­er­age from the ex­changes.

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