WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Obama administration is not backing away from its support for a public option as part of health-care reform, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stressed Tuesday.
"Here's the bottom line: Absolutely nothing has changed," Sebelius said.
"We continue to support the public option. That will help lower costs, give American consumers more choice and keep private insurers honest. If people have other ideas about how to accomplish these goals, we'll look at those, too. But the public option is a very good way to do this."
She made her remarks during an address at a Medicare conference.
Sebelius caused an uproar Sunday when she said on CNN's "State of the Union With John King" that a public insurance plan is "not the essential element" of health-care reform.
“I think there will be a competition to private insurers,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, “that really is the essential part, that you don’t turn over the whole new marketplace [after health care legislation is enacted] to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices, we need some competition.”
At a town hall in Grand Junction, Colorado Saturday, Mr. Obama seemed to downplay the necessity of having a public insurance option in the final version of any health care reform legislation presented to him by Congress.
“The public option – whether we have it or we don’t have it – is not the entirety of health care reform,” the President said. “This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it. And, by the way, it’s both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else . . .”
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that it would likely be Thanksgiving before the most vulnerable, high priority populations are completely vaccinated against the H1N1 or swine flu virus. In the meantime, Sebelius said parents and schools need to make back-up plans to deal with possible illness.
“We’re playing out a whole variety of scenarios,” Sebelius said on CNN’s State of the Union. “We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”
Sebelius told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King that the administration was “optimistic” it would have a vaccine available by around mid-October.
“But the regimen will take about five weeks,” Sebelius said, “A first shot, three weeks delay, second shot, and then about two weeks for full immunity. So we’re really need to work between now and Thanksgiving with lots of social mitigation – keeping kids home from school if they’re sick. I would urge every family have a back-up child care plan.”
“If a parent gets sick, was is the plan?,” Sebelius also said Sunday, “because we know the disease spreads quickly and we will not have fully immunized even priority populations until about Thanksgiving.”
“We’re looking at schools as great partners for possible vaccine programs beginning in the fall to get kids immunized as quickly as possible because this is a children’s flu,” the Obama aide also said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A top Obama aide said Sunday that even if health care reform legislation is passed, the president cannot prevent employers from dropping health care coverage.
Asked about Mr. Obama’s comments Tuesday at New Hampshire that “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the president could not ensure that employees would not lose coverage if Democrats succeed in passing health care reform legislation.
“Clearly, he can’t prevent employers from dropping coverage,” Sebelius told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, “and it happens all the time although health reform will stabilize that marketplace.”
“I think, at the end of the day, what [Obama’s] saying is that you’re going to have a stronger employer-based system – encourage more employers to stay where they are and encourage more doctors to actually participate in the system. Clearly, he can’t mandate that a doctor not retire or that an employer not switch a plan that might have a different network of doctors."
Sebelius also told King about a deal the administration has struck with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry that will help contain costs for prescription drugs especially for senior citizens covered by Medicare who need prescription drugs.
Related: Health care in America
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.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - An H1N1 flu vaccine should be ready in October if a strain now moving through the southern hemisphere heads north for the fall and winter, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sebelius said the vaccine still must undergo clinical trials to ensure it is both effective against the virus and safe for people.
"We're on track to have a vaccine ready by mid-October," she said.
“The bottom line is it’s got to be paid for,” Sebelius said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “We all have a shared responsibility, that we all need to play a role,” the Obama Cabinet member added.
Asked about a new proposal from Democrat Rep. Charlie Rangel, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, that would increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to help finance health care reform, Sebelius replied that “I think everything is on the table and discussions are under way.”
Asked whether the administration would reject any reform proposals that included taxing employer-provided health care benefits, Sebelius was equally equivocally.
There are “no lines in the sand at this point,” she said.
The Obama aide also gave an update on the administration’s preparations to fight the H1N1, or “swine flu,” in the fall when the regular flu season begins.
The HHS Secretary said that if testing of the vaccine goes well, a vaccine should be ready by mid-October.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday that the federal government is doing everything it can to be ready for the traditional flu season this fall and winter, now that the H1N1 swine flu virus has become a global public health concern.
“We are certainly making every effort to be totally prepared,” Sebelius said on CNN’s State of the Union, adding that the production of a swine flu vaccine could begin as early as the end of the summer if a vaccination program is ultimately recommended.
“The good news is it still seems like not such a lethal virus,” Sebelius added. “But we are fully prepared . . . . Preparation is very much under way for what may happen this fall.”
Late last week, the World Health Organization raised its swine flu alert level to 6 – the highest level on WHO’s scale. It signifies the existence of a global pandemic – from the point of view of geographic spread rather than the sheer number of cases.
“The costs are crushing us,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “It’s hurting families. Our businesses are less competitive. We can’t continue on this pathway,” the Obama Cabinet member added.
To achieve Obama’s health care reform agenda, the administration is considering several different approaches including a public insurance option, Sebelius said Sunday.
A public option would be similar to the existing Medicare and Medicaid programs and, by competing with plans offered by private insurers, the White House hopes it would help to lower the cost of coverage throughout the market.
“Competition is a good thing . . . Choice and competition is what we want,” Sebelius told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King Sunday.
“The president does not want to dismantle privately owned plans. He doesn’t want the 180 million people who have employer coverage to lose that coverage. He wants to strengthen the marketplace.”
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate confirmed former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of Health and Human Services Tuesday on a 65-31 vote.
With the Sebelius confirmation, every Cabinet post in the Obama administration has now been filled.