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Sebelius: What Deficit? What Waivers?



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The Obama administration’s top spokesperson on health care was unable to defend the string of promises that already have been broken about the health-care law when questioned before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was clearly flummoxed when questioned by Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wis.). For example, Senator Johnson asked her about the “1,200 to 1,700 waivers” that have been granted to give employers, particularly labor unions, temporary relief from parts of Obamacare. “I’ve no idea what waivers you’re talking about,” Sebelius replied.

Senator Johnson also listed a number of the president’s specific promises about the law, including claims it would reduce the deficit, cut health costs, and allow people to keep their coverage and their doctors. When Sebelius was confronted with the facts, she either said she didn’t have those facts or said the law hadn’t had a chance to work yet.

It was clear that Johnson knew much more about the health law and its impact than the top Obama administration official in charge of implementing it. During his questioning, Senator Johnson took apart Obamacare’s promises one by one:

— Reducing the deficit. “Instead of saving $143 billion, we are adding $54 billion to our deficit, correct?” Johnson asked, breaking down the numbers. The secretary didn’t dispute them. Broken promise number one.

● Health costs rising. Johnson continued: “It is true that the president said that by enacting this health-care law, every family would save $2,500 per year, in their family insurance plan — correct? . . . The Kaiser Family Foundation has already released a study saying that average costs of family health-care plans is up $2,200, correct?” Secretary Sebelius said the exchanges aren’t in place yet so there are no Obamacare savings. “We’re already different by $4,700; it’s going to be hard to get us down to $2,500 cost savings. I would consider that broken promise number two,” Johnson said.

● Employers dropping coverage. Senator Johnson cited a McKinsey & Company study that estimated 30 to 50 percent of employers would drop their employee coverage once the new law is fully implemented, and he said that adding so many more people to taxpayer-subsidized coverage would add hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions, to the federal deficit.

Secretary Sebelius could not say how many employers would drop coverage, but used Massachusetts as an example where coverage was not dropped. Senator Johnson quickly dismissed that defense with a specific explanation of how the incentives in the federal law are significantly stronger for employers to drop coverage. Broken promise number three.

● Waivers. “Now, you’ve granted quite a few waivers — about 1,200 to 1,700 waivers — on about 4 million Americans, correct?” Johnson said. “I’ve no idea what waivers you’re talking about,” Sebelius replied. She continued to have a hard time understanding that he meant the waivers that have been granted to select employers (disproportionately labor unions) to protect them temporarily from early provisions of Obamacare.

“The bottom line here is, the cost of this health-care law is so uncertain, don’t you think we ought to put the brakes on it?” Johnson asked. “You know, Nancy Pelosi said, ‘We have to pass this law to figure out what’s in it.’ What I don’t want to see is that we have to implement it to figure out how it’s going to bust a hole in our already horribly broken budget.”

He could not be more correct. The administration is left sputtering when confronted with the actual facts about the impact of the health-care overhaul law. Putting on the brakes is a first step to repealing the whole law.

This partial transcript is very much worth a few minutes of your time.

SEBELIUS: The original estimate, yes. I think that’s —

JOHNSON: Right. So, the original estimate for deficit reduction —

SEBELIUS: I’m assuming —

JOHNSON: The original estimate for deficit reduction in the first ten years was $143 billion, correct?

SEBELIUS: Yes —

JOHNSON: So now we, we’ve reduced that $143 billion by $86 billion — by not getting revenue from the CLASS Act — and now $111 billion because we’ve increased the mandatory costs of the exchanges, correct?

SEBELIUS: I’m assuming the numbers are correct. I’m sorry I don’t have them.

JOHNSON: So, when you add those together, that’s $197 billion added to the first ten-year cost estimate of Obamacare, so now we are instead of saving $143 billion, we are adding $54 billion to our deficit, correct?

SEBELIUS: Sir I —

JOHNSON: We’ll submit that to the record. But, that’s basically true. So instead of saving $143 billion, by this administration’s own figures and budget, we’re now adding $54 billion to our deficit in the first ten years. To me, that would be the first broken promise. It is true that the president said that by enacting this health-care law, every family would save $2,500 per year, in their family insurance plan — correct?

SEBELIUS: He said that once the exchanges are up and running, and you have an affordable marketplace, the insurance estimates were that the rates would go down by about $2,500, yes — that has not occurred yet.

JOHNSON: The Kaiser Family Foundation has already released a study saying that average costs of family health-care plans is up $2,200, correct?

SEBELIUS: Again, there is no new marketplace yet for insurance policies.

JOHNSON: But the costs are already up. We’re already different by $4,700; it’s going to be hard to get us down to $2,500 cost savings. I would consider that broken promise number two.

It’s also true, that President Obama very famously said, ‘If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period. No one will take it away, no matter what.’ Now, you’ve granted quite a few waivers — about 1,200 to 1,700 waivers — on about 4 million Americans, correct?

SEBELIUS: I’ve no idea what waivers you’re talking about or —

JOHNSON: Well, those are waivers —

SEBELIUS: On doctors and health plans, is that . . . I —

JOHNSON: Just waivers from having to implement portions of the health-care law that probably would have allowed those — or forced those workers — off their employer-sponsored care.

SEBELIUS: Again, I’d be happy to answer these questions, but I have no idea what waivers you’re talking about —

JOHNSON: The waivers that HHS has granted to employers not —

SEBELIUS: Which do what?

JOHNSON: Not having implemented sections of the health-care law.

SEBELIUS: There have been waivers granted to employers, yes.

JOHNSON: And had those waivers not been granted, chances are, those employees probably would have lost their employer-sponsored care, correct?

SEBELIUS: I have no idea. I mean, I’m happy to answer those one at a time and look at the waivers and see what —

JOHNSON: Unfortunately, I’m pretty short on time.



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