Sebelius: Obamacare is “salvation” for private insurance market

Jon Ward Contributor
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Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday that President Obama’s health care law may be the “salvation” of the private insurance market, and also inserted herself into the midterm elections, predicting that Democrats will not lose the House or Senate this fall, and knocked the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling.

Sebelius said that the president designed his health bill partly because “we were looking at a business model that wasn’t working…well left entirely on its own.”

“It may be the salvation of the private market,” Sebelius said of the health law, speaking to a group of reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “As rates go up, they are losing their customer base.”

“So one could say in 2014 when there become … somewhere between 30 and 40 million new customers that is a kind of new opportunity for the private insurance market,” she said, referring to the number of Americans currently uninsured that will then be required under the law to obtain coverage.

Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents roughly 1,300 insurers, said that Obama’s health law “bends the cost curve in the wrong direction.”

“The law imposes billions of dollars in new health care taxes that the CBO has said will increase the cost of coverage for families and small businesses. Unless underlying medical costs are brought under control, families and employers will continue to struggle to afford coverage and rising health care costs will crowd out other urgent national priorities,” Zirkelbach said.

But Sebelius said that the law is an improvement over the past, when insurers were regulated for abusive practices only by state commissioners.

“There really hasn’t ever been a federal focus … on the insurance market,” she said, insisting minutes later that the law is nonetheless “state-friendly” because “it assumes at every step along the way that the state takes the lead.”

Asked how many employees HHS will need to add over the next few years to implement the new law, Sebelius said she did not know. A spokeswoman said so far that a new office involved with drafting regulations has added about 170 new HHS employees. Sebelius said another area where new workers will be needed is in the area of computer systems.

Sebelius, who arrived at the breakfast with federal protective agents and her own stainless steel coffee thermos, also sounded some strikingly political notes for a Cabinet secretary.

She said Democrats will retain the House and Senate in November, when she was asked about Republican plans to repeal the health care law. But she also commented, without prompting, on the current debate over campaign finance disclosure, which has been one of Obama’s favorite talking points.

“The untold story of 2010 is not the Tea Party or the health care bill. It is the amount of money that is flowing in districts around the country, and in particular the amount of anonymous money,” Sebelius said.

She noted she has traveled around the country and talked to many state and national candidates, who say they are facing TV advertising from groups that they’ve never heard of before.

“Every candidate I talk to says the same thing. They literally don’t know where the money is coming from,” Sebelius said.

She affirmed Obama’s controversial criticism last January of the Supreme Court justices who were seated feet in front of him in the House chamber during his State of the Union address.

“The president was absolutely right at the State of the Union when he talked about the Supreme Court decision being a real turning point,” she said.

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