July 19th, 2009
01:42 PM ET
9 years ago

Health care proposals need more work, health secretary says

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that the Obama administration wants a deficit-neutral health care reform bill.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that the Obama administration wants a deficit-neutral health care reform bill.

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.

soundoff (190 Responses)
  1. Susie

    Charge the wealthy??? Again?? The people who actually work and pay their bills??? BullCRAP!!!!!!

    July 19, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  2. Gary Clifton

    This is not a reform but a national take over. The system can be fixed but the socialist goal is to have all people under a national plan paid by taxes. This will cause the government to assume the role that insurance "big wigs" have right now and there will be severe caps limits etc.. If not the system will go broke. This is the last gasp of the FDR/60s progressives who want to control the world to make it perfect. Watch out!!

    July 19, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  3. Larry

    END THE WARS!!!!!

    They shouldn't have been started in the first place. There's several hundred billion $/year you can fund health care and more!

    July 19, 2009 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  4. Mike O

    Read: 'Health care bill needs more district-specific goodies to buy the essential votes' to take away private insurance (re: page 16 of the Health Care Bill) and make that income (and much more) the government's.

    Government to 'decrease fraud', 'increase efficiency', and 'reduce costs' over private solutions. Can ANYONE remember the last time the federal government actually managed to do ANY of those? All government will do is redistribute who all gets to pay for the massive amounts of increased fraud, decreased efficiency and increased costs )All Washington trademarks).

    July 19, 2009 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  5. Robin Hood?

    Is taxing the rich more heavily a good thing? I think so. First of all, they have benefitted handsomely from the rigged economy that we have been living in for 25 years. Wealth is flowing upward. The top 1%, 5%, 10% have a lot more money than they had in 1975. That is, the wealthy are become vastly more wealthy and the remaining 90% of the population are becoming tenants in their own nation.

    The Conservative promise was that a free market would produce a wealthier nation. They didn't mention that the rules would be rigged to favor the house, namely the wealthy constituents who donate most of the money received by the nation's Conservative leadership. They have created "think tanks" that have created a whole political philosopy built around legitimizing their own vast fortunes.

    We have learned that a man will do pretty much anything for a hundred million dollars, including bankrupt his own nation. Our business leadership led us over the cliff and into this economic recession.

    There is no real harm done by increasing taxes on the wealthy. Their lives will continue to be exceedingly comfortable and luxurious by any standard one cares to impose. As Franklin Roosevelt observed, "“It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach.”

    July 19, 2009 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  6. Tim

    O.K. The President and the Dems are promising budget neutrality. I personally do not believe that you can insure 47 million MORE people (the dems number) without taxing anyone making under 250K (President Obamas repeated promise) more.
    Further there really are no reforms for actually reducing costs. If it were so easy to reduce costs, dont you think it would have already gotten done? The congressional budget office has already stated that the current proposal will INCREASE the unsustainalbe rate of cost increases. Thus the healthcare reform will WORSEN the COST CRISIS not improve it.

    President Obama is trying to rush this though for two reasons. One the failure of his policies on the banks, on the housing crisis, on the stimulus package, on the auto industry are becoming more apparent as time passes, and he is losing support from his own party. This is undeniably true since the Democrats have a SUPERMAJORITY, and can pass ANY legislation without a SINGLE Repub vote. Therefore the fact that his legislation does not pass is due to DEMOCRATIC opposition. Secondly, as has been his pattern and practice, he calls everything an emergency as an excuse for passing legislation before anyone has time to actually read the legislation to find all the flaws in it; this is inexcusable; especially for a President who campaigned on promises of openess and transparency.

    Lets just assume that a proposal can be submitted that does this. EVERYONE, INCLUDING THE PRESIDENT, HIS STAFF, and the CONGRESS should get exactly the same health benefits that the ordinary citizen gets. The President on the ABC special declined to make this pledge. Thus President Obama has already shown that he has no faith in the healthcare reform to treat HIS FAMILY, so why should the average American believe his promises about the quality of the healthcare under his reform.

    I as an INDEPENDENT MINORITY VOTER, based on his broken promises in the short period of his administration, and based on his continuing disingenous promises, do not want this government controlled healthcare program imposed on me or my family.

    July 19, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  7. Micheal, Atlanta GA

    I support a health care reform. But I want to see numbers , check and balances MADE public before any bill is signed. Is everyone truely covered? And Is there a reasonable plan to pay for the program?

    I urge all to call their congressmen/senators asking them these questions.

    July 19, 2009 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  8. susie

    What is the incentive to work, if the Gov't takes the majority of your money? The motivation is gone under the Democrats, they promote laziness.

    July 19, 2009 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  9. Beverly Schuler

    I am in favor of removing the profit in the health care industry as a whole. Health care is a human rights issue! Even the moral majority see to the needy-but they prefer to send it overseas. Whats wrong with helping your neighbors? What most people don't realize is how close they are themselves to losing everything they have worked for to a single illness. We have no enpathy until it hits us! What ever the cost we have to do something before it is too late. Health care for profit is robbing the public because they know they can.

    July 19, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  10. scott

    I can't believe small business is going to pay for their emloyees health insurance. Most small businesses will be put under by a financial pressure like this.

    I have an idea that makes sense , how about people being accountable for their own health. I'm sure the wealthy who are going to help foot the bill for this new plan ,really want to pay for obese people and people who smoke cigarettes, and let's also mention illegal aliens and crack heads.

    Another way to save billions of dollars is by making termanally ill people comfortable,not hospitalizing them. A large percent of health care dollars is spent on people who are dying, let the die with dignity at home

    July 19, 2009 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  11. Mike

    You free marketers have had 100 years to make the system work and have failed... it's time for a new approach. the house bill was endorsed by the AMA... If the doctors trust it, so should we!

    July 19, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  12. Dr. Anne

    I am a physician. For years I could not get any insurance company to provide health coverage to my staff of 4 women. One company finally agreed to cover us, cashed our $2000 for the first month, then promptly returned our money. The agent on the phone said that our risk pool was too high, and even without including maternity coverage (neonatal costs), and a one year rider for preexisting conditions, that it wouldn't work for them financially.
    Eventually, all the doctors in our US Virgin Islands community got together and did "guild" or association insurance – a difficult feat.

    15 years ago, I had an emergency appendectomy when I was an medical intern working for the state of Louisiana, and my insurer Columbia, refused to pay, until I told them I was a doctor and threatened them with a lawsuit. I guess free market means accept premium payments and then don't pay. Clearly, out health insurance is broken.

    I do want a mandate so that the risk is lower for the insurers and so that we can truly achieve access to insurance. Eventually we have to talk about including the self-employed in the same tax structure as employees and about tort reform.

    But the party of no has to accept that the status quo cannot work. Maybe we should take away health insurance for the Congress until they come up with a plan.

    July 19, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  13. disgusted

    Get off it Susie. The hysterics for our poor wealthy is getting old. Look at tax rates for the wealthy in the past...look at them now. I think they will be fine.

    And Gary...You sound paranoid. Get some help.

    Read some facts from an unbiased source. They are out there if you care to look.

    Or you can just bleat.

    July 19, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  14. DC from NJ

    "Needs more work" – now there's an understatement. Once this garbage passes, there is no turning back. Our elderly parents, our children and grandchildren will be stuck with substandard care. Just how do you add 50 million to the system without collapsing it? Where do the additional doctors come from? Democrats and the media better wake up. This isn't about appeasing obama - this is about us!

    July 19, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  15. Bill

    Susie, I make 55,000 a year, so the 1% tax surcharge on people making 350,000 dollars a year will not apply to me. Nor will the graduated tax, up to 4.1% on people making up to 1,000,000 dollars and above a year. (Neither do I have the tax breaks that the aforementioned earners do, such as capital gains on my huge:) stock holdings.) So, by your logic, I don't work and pay my bills. I am insulted.

    July 19, 2009 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. just joe

    I really dislike what the Obama Czars and their Assistant Czars are doing on this one......if a political party in power has the gall to run ads pointing up the "failure" of members of their own party in NOT supporting what the POTUS wants done, then something stinks down in Washington, and it ain't the Potomac. It is nice to have Emanuel and his assistant assistant czars playing political games, but one would expect that the President would be beyond dhildish games, but I guess it akes one to know one.

    What a disgrace.

    July 19, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  17. DDC from Colorado

    I like "universal health insurance" but everyone has to share the responsibility, if you call it "universal". It is not wealthy issue, it is the system issue and fairness. Insurace companies must control the premiums, the doctors must reduce the charges, all working forces must pay more or less tax if that is the only option. That is fair system. Looking at the charges the doctors make, for example, I visited a specialist in an half hour, he charged the me $700 on the bill. Minus the discount from the insurance company, the doctor still got $500. That is outragous. That must be fixed. Just taxing the so-called "wealthy" won't fix the problem but just give Obama Administration an achievement or milestone in a short term.

    July 19, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  18. Victor

    Without price caps this whole plan will increase costs not reduce them.

    What happens when you force an insurance company to insure previous medical conditions? They raise rates. If you get cancer and can go to any medical insurance company and they have to take you they are going to raise rates to cover the added expenses. Not lower them.

    If my cheapskate company can't find cheaper insurance company the government sure can't.

    If they try to cover those 46 million with insurance and decide to pay premiums on them even at $1,000.00 a year each they will spend $46 Billion a year. They need to not pay premiums for these folks and need to simply pay the medical bills of those who can not afford to pay the bill.

    We also need a tax deduction for doctors who provide free or discount service to the poor.

    Legislation that states you can only be charged double what a supply costs the medical facility would keep them from charging $25.00 for an Asprin. They are raping and pillaging the sick and these morons are gonna give them even more business without regulating an industry where you die if they mess up or are not covered.

    July 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  19. Crazy Harry

    I think the CNN TIcker needs a Right Wing Sound Bite Remover. It should be fairly easy to implement. Use Hanity/Limbaugh/Coulter as a base and that should take care of most of the comments.

    July 19, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  20. Jim

    My small company pays for 100% insurance for its staff. Our rates went up 40%, 50% and 30% over the last 4 years. I'm tired of you right wingers complaints about a socialist take over. Having this issue solved will help small businesses and I support the President's plan. The rest of us need to make the Blue Dog Democrats get in line and go for this.

    July 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  21. Michigan Jim

    Tax the wealthy! I want my free health care! Gimme! I want it now! I also want a 60" plasma TV so I can watch medical documentaries to improve my health. More taxes on other people!

    July 19, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  22. Mark

    Give it up Sebelius. It's an exremely unpopular way to "fix" health care. It will NEVER pass.

    July 19, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  23. Anonymous

    First, let me state I am a fiscal conservative that works for a health insurance company. Can the current system be used to insure the uninsured? Yes, can we afford to pay for with out adding to the current deficit? Yes. You may ask how. Raise taxes. Limit lawsuits on doctors. Yes, both are needed. A small tax on the extremely rich can help pay for those that are uninsured. Normally I don't support any tax but since noone will ever support the fair tax, a consumption tax that would tax everyone, even those that don't pay any taxes because they work in an illegal trade ( drug dealers, prostituion,), or those that have undeclared income, or those that have income that is not federally taxable by law the government would collect more money to pay for these programs that is needed to protect its citizens. If you limit lawsuits on doctors their income would stay neutral. I say stay neutral because when the government imposes its plan to force medicare rates on doctors, their overall income will decrease. But, if you limit lawsuits the ammount of income they spend on insurance to protect themselves froom false lawsuits would decrease to compensate. One day people will undertand that anytime you decrease people in power's income they increase price or the best of the best leave the trade for a more profitable venture.

    July 19, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  24. Wow!

    Here's a thought: Let's hear what the plans are all about before we pass judgment. Let's think about the best way forward instead of having the usual knee-jerk hysteria. Virtually all Western countries have universal healthcare in one form or another and they pay less for their healthcare, have lower infant mortality rates and longer life expectancies than the US. I am willing to bet that most people wailing about "socialism", "no choice of doctor", "caps on treatment", "waiting lists for basic care" and all the other scare tactic buzzwords and phrases have no real understanding or concept of what is actually happening in Canada, the UK and those other Western countries other than what is fed to them by one side of the other of this debate or what little blurb they happen to see or read out of context somewhere. I was surprised to read here that McConnell was "not in favor of doing nothing", but surely we can all agree on that. The Republicans and the insurance companies have made sure we've done nothing for at least the last 16 years. Isn't about time we did something to ensure all Americans have access to affordable healthcare? Isn't that a natural extension of those Judeo-Christian beliefs about which we hear all the time regarding taking care of the weak among us? Calm down. Educate yourselves on something other than the trivial and inflammatory sound bites you are being fed. Then write your representatives and get involved. Stop being the screeching, wailing, hand-wringing, uneducated masses whose ignorance serves only the status quo and stand up to be the educated masses that reinforce the strength and power of this country. We should be better than all these histrionics.

    July 19, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  25. reeba

    Health care needs to be reformed – – right ! ! ! However they way the politicians go about trying to convince everybody is insulting. Tell us "it is not going to cost anything to reform the system"... some folks think that means it is not going to cost us anymore for better healthcare. Read between the lines..... read every word and listen to BOTH sides' opinions.
    The government cannot manage ANTYHING efficiently – – much less the health care – – look at Canada and Britain..... wait 6 months for an MRI – – be deined certain medications because your disease is not curable anyway..... go to emergency room for a cold because you can't get an appointment for 3 weeks because of short staffing due to lack of funding. Get the picture ???? That is 'socialized healthcare' ! ! !

    July 19, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
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