Sebelius finds that funny can be serious

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may not have expected the series of federal health policy fastballs she faced in a recent interview on a national comedy show, but she managed to avoiding whiffing on all but a couple of them.

Sebelius faced a series of detailed questions on various implementation details of the Patient Protection and Affordable Act during her Jan. 23 appearance on “The Daily Show.”

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The law's provisions have resulted in 2.5 million “young Americans” gaining insurance coverage; “thousands” of people have received coverage under its high-risk pools; and the federal government has gained “oversight” of insurance plans, she said.

The comedy show's host, Jon Stewart, challenged Sebelius on her unexpected decision to allow some state flexibility in determining the essential benefits package of minimal coverage that all plans in state-based insurance exchanges must offer in 2014. Sebelius pointed out that such state variation only will occur within federal “ground rules” that include 10 categories of care that all of the plans must cover.

Stewart also asked whether the federal government is preparing to set up federal exchanges in states that refuse to establish such marketplaces themselves.

“You bet,” Sebelius said.

However, when Stewart raised concerns that plans that did not meet the law's standards would simply receive waivers, Sebelius said “there were a couple companies where the consumers had no other choice” that had received temporary waivers.

That doesn't reflect the latest totals from the Obama administration, which reported on Jan. 8 that requirements were waived through 2013 for 1,231 plans covering 3.3 million workers.

Stewart also repeatedly pressed Sebelius on whether employers would “dump” their workers on health exchanges as a cost-saving move after they are established in 2014. That is a touchy subject for the administration, which pushed back hard on previous projections that creation of the exchanges would lead to tens of millions of employees losing their employer-sponsored coverage.

After his third time asking about employer “dumping,” Sebelius said “No, I think it will create a market for individual purchasers.”

Follow Rich Daly on Twitter @MHRDaly.



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