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. gina

    Start take control of Your Health,Go the Gym,Rest,Clean air drink pure water eat Organic veggie ,fruit & Nut Go Raw food!

    July 19, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  2. Steve, Columbia SC

    Hey Mrs. Sebelius, the plan coming out of Congress needs to be more than budget neurtral, it needs to be good for the American citizens, all of them, not just the uninsured. It also needs to be better than what exists. It also cannot fund abortion with public funds.

    Do you UNDERSTAND? Do you GET IT?

    July 19, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  3. PeteSLA

    Dear Amanda,

    Get a better job and/or reduce your expenses further to pay for your ailments. Life can be a challenge. But it's your challenge. Do have car payments? Sell your car and drive an older one. Do you have cable TV? Cancel it. And so on.

    Your attitude of, "I looked around, but didn't like what I saw, so help me out" is not how America works. It's the Land of Opportunity. Find a better opportunity. Did you look into whether your school or alumni association has a group plan you can join? What about joining the chamber of commerce? Have you looked at ALL options?

    Could you imagine the immigrants who entered through Ellis Island expecting others to pay for their migraines or cat allergies? Good grief. How far we've come as a nation...

    Good luck!

    July 19, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  4. Henry Miller

    @Amanda: " I'm in -college-. I'm terrified to go without insurance in case something bad happens. What am I supposed to do, then, people who are against what the administration is trying to do?"

    I'm 56. My wife has chronic migraines, barely controllable by $30/dose meds. I have three highly athletic kids who are all competitive figure skaters, a sport that comes with no end of sprains, torn ligaments, ruptured tendons, and, a couple of times, broken bones.

    What am I supposed to do, then, when people like you demand that not only do I pay out thousands of dollars every year (I'm past $10k so far this year, and it's only July) for my own family's medical expenses but that I be compelled to pay your medical expenses too. You think this is somehow fair?

    Grow up, Amanda. The world doesn't owe you a a thing.

    July 19, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  5. Fla.


    Your post is unfortunately more right-wing fear mongering. Doctors making $3/hr?? Nonsense.

    Please research doctors in other countries, such as Great Britain. They make a very comfortable living. Enough of the exaggerations.

    July 19, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  6. Marie - Reno, NV

    I prefer taxing those areas of our culture that make healthcare more expensive... adding a "junk food" tax on anything with a per serving RDA of 20% and higher of sugar OR fat OR sodium.

    Eating junk food is unhealthy and costs more in medical services for everything from emergency rooms visits for heart attacks to diabetes and renal failure. If it costs more maybe people will eat it less.

    Put the tax where it makes sense AND does some good.

    July 19, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  7. hsr0601

    Basically, If ruling party changes, accordingly tax system also does, especially given the condition that the middle class is undergoing severe financial hardship as a consequence of the extremely high fuel price, mortgage rate, and insurance premium, which is a beauty and virtue of democracy as we know.

    In case some people have enjoyed the benefit of exemptions, that might imply others have shouldered the equivalent of their share.
    Now the time has come for the middle class and middle class-oriented party to take initiative.
    In general, advanced states are characterized as a broad base of middle class, the recovery of which is what the last presidential election is for, too.

    Alongside a tax on the richest, alcohol tax and ending subsidies for the private insurers can be considered, I guess.

    July 19, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  8. Nini

    Your health Care plan increases the COST lady.

    FIX THAT..........

    July 19, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  9. will

    I wish I was among the RICH so I can pay my share of the new health care bill, but I don’t have a job. I have a college education and no job. Therefore, I can't pay for much of anything at this time.

    July 19, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  10. Sandy Martin

    Would one solution be possible that anyone who borrows money to get an education in the medical field ie. nurses, doctors, x-ray techs, etc., pay back their student loans by volunteering a pre-set number of hours at "government free clinics" once they graduate. I'm not talking about everyday, just one or two days a week, depending on the amount of the loan, so they can enjoy a private practice the rest of the time. Give everyone who files a tax return an "insurance voucher" to purchase insurance policies. People who work and have insurance available to them still choose not to purchase it. They would rather take their chances and receive the extra cash. Giving people vouchers who file tax returns may increase the number of tax returns filed and more taxes collected by the government. There are a lot of people who don't file and pay taxes. They work for cash or just don't file.

    July 19, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  11. Rebecca

    We ALL should feel sorry for our children who are going to have to live with this mess. We are teaching them NOTHING...exept what can I get for free. Everyone wants a handout but they don't want to work for it. We have NO PRIDE...Why should the rich be FORCED to share their money with someone else who isn't as wealthy...and who didn't work for it? Again we are teaching our children to EXPECT something for doing nothing. God be with us all, he is the only one who can help us.

    July 19, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  12. Thank you Docanaon

    for proving to me that most doctors aren't in the profession to help others, but to earn lots of money....

    July 19, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  13. vinay

    i have pre existing medical conditions, the insurance companies denied my insurance due to pre existing medical coniditions. what is the point of these medical insurance companies when they only want to give medical insurance for people with good health... insurance companies are just to make money.. the system needs to be changed.

    July 19, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  14. John

    The country does need more affordable health options for everyone. This plan as it is progressed is a pile of manure. Fix the tort system and ridiculous pay first. Find a way to make health costs affordable but MUST be PRIVATE. Government has FAILED and will FAIL if they try to run this. Need we need a better example than social security, the ponzi scheme that it is.

    July 19, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  15. Cynthia

    Health Care reform is needed, however it should not be rammed down are throats without care to study the plans by the PEOPLE. And also and a even bigger issue is how to we may for this . Robbing medicare/medicade to pay for other insurance is not the answer. Neither is taxing the peoples benefits.> DO NOT PASS ANYTHING untill these issues are resolved.
    WE are in debt for years to come without adding billions more to it.

    July 19, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  16. Wendel from Ohio

    I really think many wealthy people would gladly pay for health care for needy people. The problem is that government programs contain lots of waste and mismanagement.

    July 19, 2009 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  17. renea

    Even if the rich get Taxed to pay for healthcare So what they can afford it anyway. of course you are against reforming healthcare if you have to pay more. When the previous President was in office they was getting a tax cut nothing was being said then they got richer. Why dont some of you crooked governors snd senotors and other politicians get behind the president and try to fix this system you know are broken. Alot of you know the reason you are against healthcare reform is because some of these big insurance companies and other special interest groups help support you.

    July 19, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  18. matt

    Republicans have been leading this country into ruin, since the 60's. They care about 2 things RICH people and business. It's no surprise that they don't want universal health coverage, because it would hurt the rich, Insurance companies, and prescription drug companies

    July 19, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  19. Hammerer

    How about making the career welfare deadbeats to work and sending the 40 million illegals back home. The savings would cover the money needed for healthcare for American citizens that really need assistance and lower the demand for free care.

    July 19, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  20. Augustine Jermacans

    What seems to be the problem of talking about clinics in stead of using ER ROOMS.THere the prices help the hospitals and insurance,not the people the patient.When are the politicians going to see this?

    July 19, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  21. l Mitton

    Many of the so called rich are actually "S Corporations" maybe some do not know, but the stock holders in S Corporations are credited with the profit. Most of the time single owners. So the total profit is the owners income plus the profit left in the company to grow or replace equipment. With all the taxes on our backs right now (all Fed, State, local, SS, Unemployment) not to mention workmens comp. We are approaching 60% of our gross profit. Now add in property tax and sales tax. - I ask why should I continue take the risks of being in business. There needs to be incentives to have people take the risk of starting a business. Take away the incentive new business will disappear and so will jobs.

    July 19, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  22. DJ

    Medicare and Medicade is needed in America, because we are American and we should take care of our own. The only problem is that illegal immigrants are bleeding our country dry. because illegal immigrants have not put into the system but have the privilege of the system is why our health care system is in turmoil. You have to give to be able to get, that's just common sense.

    July 19, 2009 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  23. Jeanne

    This issue has so many more sides than just insurance. I'm in the midwest and there's new medical facilities and doctors offices popping up all over the place. Must be a big revenue generator to be able to build so many new facilities.

    Several of you have commented that you or friends/family had care that cost over $1 mil in a year. All that for $4000- $15000 you or your employer paid in premiums? No wonder the insurance co has to question so much stuff. As I understand it, the profit margins in insurance are very minimal.

    How many do you know without insurance spend plenty of money on non-essentials (expensive jeans, sneakers, electronic toys, etc).

    People don't hesitate to blow $100 on dinner, but can't afford to pay for a co-pay.

    July 19, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  24. daunt

    How can a great country survive forever with healthcare for all???

    July 19, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  25. Chispter

    For your information, those who have the top 5% income received huge tax breaks for the past 8 years. Many of them even said that they should be paying more. And here's some breaking news – most of the remaining 95% also work and pay their bills. They just have less disposable income because more of their income goes to basic necessities, not luxury items or investments.

    How about a REAL flat tax? 15% of any income – no deductions, no exemptions, no exceptions! 15% of your income is the same as 15% of mine.

    July 19, 2009 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
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