WASHINGTON (CNN) - More work is needed on proposed health care reform legislation to ensure that whatever bill eventually gets passed by Congress is budget neutral, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday.
Appearing on the NBC program "Meet the Press," Sebelius said an additional tax on wealthy Americans is "a legitimate way to go forward."
She noted the tax surcharge provision in a House proposal was one of several options under discussion to help pay for overhauling the nation's ailing health system.
A final bill "will be paid for - it will not add to the deficit," Sebelius said of health care reform, which is currently President Barack Obama's top domestic priority.
Obama seeks an overhaul to ensure that health insurance is available to the 46 million Americans currently uninsured while preventing costs to both the government and individuals from continuing to climb.
The House and Senate are working on Democratic proposals that would create a government-funded public health insurance option intended to drive down costs of private coverage.
However, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported last week that the measures currently under consideration in both chambers would fail to pay for themselves, increasing the budget deficit.
Republican opponents seized on the CBO report as ammunition against Obama's push to have a bill from each chamber approved by the time Congress begins recess on Aug. 7.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, also appearing on "Meet the Press," said the government is over-reaching by seeking to reform the whole system.
He called for expanding the tax deduction on health care costs for employers to include individual taxpayers - what the Republicans call equalized tax treatment - and limiting medical malpractice lawsuits that he said drive up the cost of medical care.
"I'm not in favor of doing nothing," McConnell said. "It's important to reduce the number of uninsured. The question is how to do that."
However, White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said the real purpose of Republican criticism is to slow momentum in hopes of eventually killing health care reform.
"The typical Washington bureaucratic game of 'if you don't have a better alternative, just delay in the hope that that kills something' is partly what is playing out here," Orszag said on the CNN program "State of the Union."
Democrats pushing the health care bills argue the CBO analysis does not take into account the financial impact of cost-cutting measures under discussion, nor how stronger preventive care programs will reduce demand and costs.
Sebelius noted that all proposals include various provisions to decrease fraud and improve efficiency of the current system.
"In all the plans, more than half the money to pay for the proposal is already in the system," Sebelius said, referring to what she called "misdirected" money for ineffective programs and other instances of waste and inefficiency.
Orszag also called for creating an independent commission of doctors that would set reimbursement levels and other health care policy issues under congressional oversight, calling it "the single most important thing that's missing from the legislation at this point."
However, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told the CBS program "Face the Nation" that such a panel would end up limiting care available to people, like in the government-run system of England. He said he would propose a plan next week modeled on the 1997 Children's Health Insurance Program he sponsored with Democratic Sen. Ten Kennedy of Massachusetts to provide states with money to set up programs based on need.
Both the House and Senate proposals so far include mechanisms to raise revenue through increased or new taxes.
The Senate Finance Committee wants to create a new tax on medical benefits provided by employers, a plan that Obama opposes.
Sebelius said the new tax could cause employers who provide coverage for 180 million Americans to change or drop their programs, which could "dismantle the private market."
"He's reluctant to move in that direction," she said of the president.
Obama continues to favor reducing the limit on income tax exemptions for high-income Americans, Sebelius said.
Both Sebelius and Orszag emphasized that the progress was occurring in Congress, and that Obama's goal of legislation coming from both chambers by Aug. 7 remained possible.
"This hasn't happened in 50 years for a reason - it's complicated," Orszag said. "(The) legislative process is working. I think people are sort of reaching judgment about who's going to win the marathon based on who's ahead at, like, mile 19."
Updated: 1:42 p.m.
You can not just keep raising taxes on people it is not right.
You need to cut spending and stop the ever growing size of goverment.
Everyone has taken a pay cut lately. It is time for ALL goverment to take pay cuts and cut spending.
As long as "every member" of Congress is working on it, reviewing a thousand pages of this health care proposal shouldn't be too hard to accomplish. I know I'm tired of hearing House and Senate members whining, this is what they were hired to do. If they want an easy job, grow up and become a lobbyist.
Taxpayers should not be paying for health insurance for elected officials until health care is affordable and available to everyone. Treating uninsured patients is costing us a fortune! My organization's health insurance program just increased in cost by 84% so we switched to a new one (higher deductible) that only increased 55%! How much are insurance company CEOs are making now?
This cannot continue.
Senator Orlin Hatch,
Please talk to the American people about our broken Health Insurance industry policies, and how it's affected our economy statistically, and providing the statistics on how many people have died each year who had insurance...but lost Insurance coverage before their deaths due to pre-existing condition status granted them by those companies. Don't talk to American's with empty metaphors lacking statistics without any statistics determining your conclusions. Because without statistics and actuall testimonies, your conclusions become baseless assumptions to defend lobbyists for the Insurance industry.
I am sitting back and waiting to see how bad of an idea this will be.
I really like this woman – she's bright, intelligent, and tells it like it is.
She is doing a great job (no matter what the republicans say).
We shall educate ignorant dumb Republicans. Socialized medicine is when a Health Care Industry has one centralized focus of control. Offering American's a "public option" by their own choice with Private heaslth Insurance options is not... such a centralized focus of control. This would NOT be socialized medicine....because one HAS a choice of options creating a healthier market for Insurance options....
We shall educate ignorant dumb Republicans by our grass roots movement. Socialized medicine is when a Health Care Industry has one centralized focus of control. Offering American's a "public option" by their own choice with Private heaslth Insurance options also available is not... such a centralized focus of control. republican's are actually lying. they should debate this issue honestly instaed of lying. The public option would NOT be socialized medicine....because one HAS a choice of options creating a healthier market for Insurance options....and keeping unethical Insurance companies compelled to honesty for better business.
If they admit that it needs more work only after it's been so forcefully challenged why did they try and muscle it through before any serious challenge could be made? I've been waiting for healthcare reform for as long as I can remember but I don't like the way my own party is handling this. Too many unanswered questions, too little transparency. Just look at the shameful display Sebelius made of herself on Meet The Press this morning. She sidesteps direct questions with flashy rhetoric. They're not being honest.
Our Senators and members of Congress do pay Social Security. I agree about the health care that we (their employers) pay – something like 75%. They should have to pay their own health insurance until the American people have access to health care. Their salaries should also be based on the average worker's wage in some sort of formula so that they have an incentive to help workers to maintain a living wage.
I'm borderline poor, so I'm not worried about being included in the "tax the Rich" movement. But to single out the very people that provide 70% or better of the jobs in America and make them pay for everybody elses health care is basically unfair and dishonest. Penalizing people that work hard and succeed to pay for others that don't work and won't work is totally UnAmerican. Obama would have to take all of their wealth and assets to pay for this spending boondoggle that he has already created, before even considering health care.
The American Taliban don't want health care. They don't want to tax the rich, they don't believe in global warming, they don't believe in an energy crisis. They appeal to the under educated with hate and racism.The rich are fleecing this nation dry. The health business is big money, it's not about doctors making money,it's about Big Pharma trying to turn us into a nation of addicts. Look at all the drug ads on TV, we can't live without our pills which cost a fortune. The rich can afford health care, medicare and medicaid take care of the bottom tier, but what about those in the middle? Health insurance doesn't cover all cost, yet drains our paychecks, and god forbid,if you are really sick they drop you. Insurance companies and hospital corporations are not concerned with your health, only your wallet. We need something and I'm afraid the lobbyists and conservatives are going to water this bill down so much, in the end it won't do any good. I get my health care at the VA. It is excellent, fair and thorough. Much better and cheaper than my former HMO. Its not free , it's on a sliding scale unless you are combat wounded. It should be the model for national health care.
Oh the evil wealthy!! Everyone loves to complain about the wealthy. Well Americans, you are more than welcome to work 80-100 hours/week and go into 6 figure debt to become one of the wealthy. NO!!! Instead, americans would rather complain, complain, complain. We have our newest I-phones, plasma TVs, computers, SUVs, video games, etc. But we complain about the cost of health insurance???????? Where are your priorities americans???????
Docanaon, you miss the point.
No one is complaining about the amount of money Doctors make. And yes, there is a need to invest in more PCPs , doctors and nurses to support providing coverage for everyone. Where people should have an issue with salaries is insurance companies. For example, Ronald Williams for Aetna made 3.14 million is Salary and 10 million in stock options in 2008. That is money that didn't got to providing health care for Americans and is instead lining the pocket of another fat cat.
I don't want a freebie. I just want health care that's affordable and that will actually "cover" you. I made the mistake of mentioning that I had "occassional high blood pressure" that I controlled through diet and exercise and BOOM....I'm now a "risk" case that can't get insurance at a decent price. Even if I did get the high-cost insurance, it wont cover ANYTHING RELATED to high blood pressure and/or anything cardiovascular. For that matter, I'm sure they'd find a way to link anything that should go wrong with me with the high blood pressure.
A final note: Some of the big health insurance companies ACTUALLY GIVE COMMISSIONS/BONUSES TO CLAIMS AGENTS BASED ON THE AMOUNT OF MONEY THEY SAVED THE COMPANY BY DENYING CLAIMS. THIS ALONE, SHOULD TELL YOU REFORM IS NEEDED. There are plenty of millionaires who made money off of the health insurance industry–personally, they should be taxed more than anyone else.