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. bailFail

    whoever said it, hit the nail right on the head – health insurance and pharmeceutical industries are getting fat rich on our poor health. take out the middle men, the health care brokers who currently profit from it. the doctors and nurses, physical therapists and pharmacists will still get reimbursed (they won't be working of the government by the way)- they will get reimbursed by a not-for-profit, not by by your hmo who is skimming 66% off the top.

    this is the plan, put it together – it needs initial investment to get off the ground.

    July 19, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  2. jared

    This is outragious, why so much so fast, Healthcare is a huge industry, that the greater population (200m) has employeed based insurance and we are going to rush a bill through that would completely overhaul the system. I think this is a time we need a scapel not a chain saw.

    July 19, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    My 3rd of 8 babies was delivered at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh under National Health Care. it was easily my best experience of all my deliveries . . .handled by obstetrical nurses with physician oversight.

    All mothers were given 10 days in the hospital to recover and/or to understand their new baby's needs.

    The hospital was old and Spartan in its appointments but had one of the best records in the world for its obstetrical sevices.

    Wealthy people will always come to the United States for fancier care, more beautiful private rooms, etc. but that is no excuse for denying poor women in our country access to proper care.

    My parents died about 10 years ago, and my mother cried out as she was being cared for under medicare "How could we have fought so hard against "socialized medecine! What would your father and I have done without it these last few years!"

    Louise Glynn Barr

    July 19, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  4. Ancientrivr

    The reason medicare and medicaid are "bleeding us to death", despite very poor and worsening reimbursement for doctors and hospitals, is because it is part of the same "do-everything -or-they'll sue" and "pay-by-number-not-quality-of-treatments" culture as private insurance. We'll aggressively treat an 85 yr old demented end stage cancer patient and spend millions on his/her last year of life, but we won't make sure that a middle aged wage under-insured wage earner can afford blood pressure or diabetes meds or treatment that will keep him or her healthy enough to support their family and pay taxes for another 25 years and provide a healthy old age.

    July 19, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  5. Hey Kathleen.....

    while you and Obama are fooling around with this stupid health reform, the two of you are ignoring the bigger, immediate problem-the lack of sufficient swine flu vaccine.....

    The swine flu is coming back with a vengeance in Sept. and thanks to you and Obama, we are woefully unprepared...

    How about getting on this and doing something useful before Americans start falling over by the thousands...

    July 19, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  6. fella from chicago

    Has anyone noticed the foreign accents of the doctors who give us care now? Wonder why they're here in America practicing rather in their own countries? Could it be for the money? Hope the proposed health care system will take care of these physicians the same or we'll be all looking for doctors to take care of us.

    July 19, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  7. If this health reform is so good.....

    why don't all members of Congress give up their own health insurance and sign up for the Public Option??????

    Guess it's not so good.

    July 19, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  8. Hugo

    Quick hurry don't read it, don't understand it, just sign it! It is a CRISIS of the utmost urgency..... Ba Ba Black sheep have you any fools, yes sir, yes sir the whole country's full! Spend till your broken, spend till you fried cause out of the ruins, the leftists will RISE! VOTE EVERY CAREER POLITICIAN OUT OF OFFICE IN 2010, THEY ARE WHY WE ARE HERE!

    July 19, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  9. Diane

    I heard this morning on the news that they want to pass a bill whifch requires all senators to participate in the new government plan coverage. All Republicans agreed. All Democrates except 3 refused. Why?

    July 19, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  10. Ann

    To Amanda "What am I supposed to do?"

    Leave the country.

    July 19, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  11. savant

    If they tax health plans of people making 250 k plus this year you can be sure every year afterward the threshold will decrease until it reaches all who actually PAY taxes.

    July 19, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  12. Willy Brown

    As long as it does not provide free care to illegal aliens and anchor babies then look into it other than that NO. We can’t afford to pay for the democrats votes.

    July 19, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  13. jeff

    i ageee somthing needs to be done. I am not rich I make 50 grand a year but you can not keep saying lets fix it by taking money away from people who worked hard for it and give it to people who do not make lots of money

    July 19, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  14. Hellokitti

    This "reform" is no reform at all. It is a new form of giveaway to the insurance companies. The only "threat" is a public option plan which I foresee will be weak and toothless. This "reform" will have no power to lower any costs. Only a true single payer system would allow for the large pool of individuals that would make negotiating for lower drug costs and care possible. Only single payer system woulfd reduce the third of health costs that now are Insurance company profits(100's of Billions in outright federal subsidies-our tax dollar, as well as our own pockets), that provide no actual care for anyone. That's a third again of our budget that could be used to actually treat people instead of making rich people richer. If we had a national system, it would also mean that your car, house and other insurances would be alot cheaper as they would no longer need to include medical. Businesses of all sizes would not have to pay ANYTHING to ANY health program. It's one of the reasons that relocating companies abroad is attractive. Business doesn't have to pay for health coverage the way they do here. WE'd barely have to raise taxes with the money that we would save by not throwing it all away on Insurance Company profits. Thehighest Earning CEO, of United Health, "earned" 1.1 BILLION last year. Now do you see?

    July 19, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  15. Jacob

    JK: Why should everyone pay an equal share of taxes if people aren't getting an equal share of the wealth in the country. Sure, people in higher tax brackets pay more in federal taxes in terms of percentage, but those people also hold most of this country's wealth- something like 80%. Therefore, shouldn't they be expected to pay more than the poor class who only make up less than 20% of our country's wealth?

    July 19, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  16. stephanie

    Peaople...it is time to do some math. We spend 25% of all tax revenue on healthcare now. Medicaid, Medicare and SCHIP are 1/4 of our federal tax revenue...Social security is another 25%,,,add welfare and unemployment you are well over half the tax money for these mandatory entitlements......Medicare is GROWING,,,last year we spent over $400 billion on government non profit healthcare (by the way medicare reimburses doctors and hospitals LESS than private care now,,,that competition already exists)...there are 40 million seniors,,,,,so we taxpayers paid $10,000 per senior for their healthcare....What they are proposing now is not reform,,,there are virtually no savings, no cost cutting measures just a new entitlement and new taxes to pay for it,,,,This,,our PRESENT entitlement program is NOT sustainable,,,there is no crisis,,,(except a budget crisis) everyone has access to health care now and the cost are absorbed in the system....I'm all for reform. But not the establishment of a new entitlement,,,,,REFORM,,,get rid of fraud, get rid of frivolous malpractice cases,,,and encourage healthier lifestyles.

    July 19, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  17. Mindy Rodriguez

    Since Obama, his czars, his cabinet, the senate and the house do not have either eyes nor ears to see and hear the American people and their shouting DO NOT PASS THE HEALTH AND ENERGY BILLS we must get ready to have obama IMPEACHED and IMPEACH any congressmen or senator who votes for these bills.

    The elderly worked all of their lives and put their revenue into Medicare and you hot shots in DC think you have a right to give those very people terrible health care? What is the matter with you? Oh, thats right you all kiss barry soetoro obama everyday and kick Americans in the butt!

    Since you do not want to give the elderly good health care why don't you let us get off of medicare and go to any doctor/hospital we choose and we'll pay for it and you cannot fine those doctors or hospitals?

    That's how much we believe in our representatives in dc...what a joke!

    July 19, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  18. Onigiri

    Amanda... I just wish you to get some fair and honest health care. I wish I could give you some info, but sadly I'm in the same boat as you. I pay taxes, work in minimum wage and denied of receiving Medicaid. I have HBP and Depression and I write letters to elected officials to extend the coverage of Medicaid to people who are low-income in Idaho. Go ahead, and Fight! You're studying Graphic Arts, post your concerns for everybody to see, send it to your officials too! Let's see if these politicians who have health care can do something about it instead of ignoring it!

    July 19, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  19. Fla.

    I respect fiscal responsibility. Thank you, HHS Sec. Sebelius.

    Healthcare reforms are imperative now with a majority-supported public option to help ensure coverage for ALL Americans, including those individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.

    Keep up the great work for the American people.

    July 19, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  20. Adam the Canadian

    Man, this board proves how little people know about nationalized healthcare. Be careful what you wish for.

    July 19, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  21. Henry Miller

    "Sebelius said an additional tax on wealthy Americans is "a legitimate way to go forward.""

    Yeah, in the same way that armed robbery is a legitimate way to pay for your groceries.

    I can't even come close to expressing my fury at, and contempt for, a government that, with such phenomenal, self-righteous, arrogance claims it's somehow "legitimate" to compel, by threat, one group of people to pay the bills of another.

    If Ms. Sebelius and the Democrats want pay the medical bills of total strangers, fine. No one is stopping them from contributing anything that pleases them to any individual or organisation that pleases them. But I've got my own bills to pay and don't need a government stealing from me to prop up parasites who won't take responsibility for their own lives.

    July 19, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  22. BW

    1) IMMEDIATELY Implement a 99% tax on all financial institutions outlandish bonuses. Those Greedy Finance Institutions caused the mess were in. 2) Any companies that have moved business overseas should be taxes heavily and receive no Fed/State contracts or green money. 3) Greedy companies that cut employees hours so they don't have to pay any benefits should not receive any Fed/State jobs contracts and should be taxed heavily. those same companies are contributing to the health plan nightmare the gov is trying to shove down our throats.

    July 19, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  23. L Summers

    This whole universale insurance is insane. If we're to insure the 46M uninsured and pass on the cost to the wealthy, then by the same logic, everyone who's hungry should be able to go into a supermarket and take what he wants and not pay for it.

    Where does it end?

    But I definitely believe that whatever is decided upon, those in the government should be forced to try it out for one year before we change the whole system over. Bet they'll all start squealing.

    July 19, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  24. Charlie

    Amanda. I would like to point out that if the government is controlling the rates then the providers are getting paid by the government.

    A better solution is to abandon the 23 poorly run programs already in place to include Medicare. Next, we simply give people who make less than 100,000 subsidies for their health insurance o0n a pro rated schedule. They can then use this subsidy to purchase the health care of their choice. The government would offer up the same plans that they offer to employees.

    July 19, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  25. Al

    We need to at least begin to fix health care. It used to be that the wealthy were philanthropic. They enjoyed sharing the wealth because they felt that it was their duty. That God had blessed them. What happened to that mind set? Today, its how much money can I keep for myself? If the wealthy won't do that then the government needs to do it for them. To say that the wealthy already are disproportionately taxed is absurd.
    We must have health care for everyone. The current system doesn't work. I was self employed for many years and the insurance premiums were absurd. It was the same as the salary I paid for my bookkeeper. So how could someone at that salary level pay for proper health insurance. Just because you can't afford health insurance does not mean that you are a dead beat. Not every one can be an executive.
    Let's give health reform a chance. If we can bail out AIG and all those other companies and banks, I think we can take care of our hard working middle class people as well. Today in our country the rich get richer and the middle class is getting smaller. This is not what our forefathers had in mind. Equality for all means the same opportunities for everyone. That is becoming a thing of the past.

    July 19, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
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