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Obama’s Rx for Healthcare: Sec. Sebelius Speaks Out

Barack Obama
AP
Barack Obama

President Obama continues to push for Congress to complete health care legislation by August.

But making that deadline appears to be difficult.

The House is reportedly considering delaying its August recess to complete the bill.

Tonight, the President will hold his fifth primetime press conferencesince his inauguration.

Key issue: healthcare reform program.

Maria spoke with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health & Human Services of President Obama’s Healthcare Plan.

Maria:One of the major issues that we all face is the cost of soaring health care, which is of course, that the president has said breaking the backs of American families. Can you tell us in simple terms what is so expensive? Why do costs continue to soar every year?

Sebelius:Well, actually, we spend more, Maria than any country on earth. We spend about $2.5 trillion a year. And our health outcomes look like we're spending less than many countries. So we're not getting the bang for our buck. Premiums for those insured continue to rise, out of pocket costs rise. Deductibles rise and for those who are underinsured or have no coverage, they're finding it more and more difficult to keep themselves and families healthy. But the costs are crushing businesses, governments, families and we cannot sustain the current path we're on.

We all know that costs continue to rise but no one knows why. Maria asked Sebelius to pinpoint why exactly this cost is out of control.

Sebelius said, “I think we have a system right now that pays for contact and not for quality. So we pay for every doctor visit. We pay for every drug and device. We overpay for many pharmaceuticals. We've got too much waste and fraud. We overpay for medical equipment. What we need to do is change to a system where we focus on wellness, reward doctors for keeping people healthy. Stop paying for things that we know don't work very well. Stop paying for the number of contacts doctors make instead of what happens at the end of the day. Lower the kind of errors that occur when people go to the hospital. 100,000 people, Maria, in the United States each and every year die in the hospital. Not from what brought them into the hospital but accidents and mistakes that happen while they're there. Those are all things that we can deal with in a reformed health care system”.

So now, the big question is how do you pay for it? Policy analysts see no way that the Senate would pass legislation with the tax that the house has proposed. 5.4% tax on the highest earners. What are the alternatives?

Sebelius said there are lots of alternatives on the table.

“First of all we start from the point that the House and Senate both have proposals where more than half the money comes from within the system as being

Removed from areas that we know don't work, don't keep people healthier, don't make for good medicine and redirected to what will keep Americans healthier will drive more primary care, we'll drive more wellness. So savings from within the current system is the bulk of the money. The President has put on the table a proposal that he thinks is the best way to go after the rest of the money, which is to basically return the itemized deductions to the level where they were in the days of Ronald Reagan so the very wealthiest Americans would be returned to a cap of 28%. The Senate is looking at a variety of other proposals as you say, the House has some surcharge on the wealthiest Americans. The President wants this to be paid for, though, and so does congress. This not add to the deficit and that's good for the bottom line”.

The latest Gallup pollfinds that more Americans disapprove than approve President Obama’s healthcare plan. 50% disapprove as opposed to 45% of the way the president is handling health care policy. Maria asked Sebelius why do more Americans disapprove of the plan?

Sebelius said there's a lot of misinformation out there.

“People are afraid that somebody's going to take their doctor away from them or their health plan away from them. As the President continues to say if you have a plan you like, you're going to keep it. For seniors who have Medicare benefits that they absolutely rely on and think are great and like their doctors, that's going to be stabilized by this. We have a pathway right now where Medicare is going to go broke not too many years down the road. We want to stabilize it and help seniors pay their drug cost. Part of reform fills that doughnut hole for seniors now buying prescription drugs and reach a point where they don't get help with those. We want to make sure that families will have coverage they can afford and our small business owners are competitive again. Part of it is getting information to the American public that this is a system which in the long run will benefit everybody because we can't keep spending more and getting worse health results than any nation on earth”.

Healthcare coverage and the hastle of forms
Healthcare coverage and the hastle of forms

Maria: How does a government run insurance option competing alongside private companies create a fair playing field and do you worry that with the government-run insurance option, that’s going to impact quality, that we may not be getting the best doctors and quality care?

Sebelius:What I know from watching an insurance marketplace and regulating the marketplace as a former insurance commissioner that competition does a great job lowering costs. The private insurance companies right now have a monopoly. They get to decide who gets insurance coverage and who doesn't, who gets locked out of the system because you have a preexisting condition or your child has been sick or your spouse is a recovering from a heart attack.

Maria: Yeah, but is it better than the government decides?

Sebelius:Those rules need to change and I think what the government can do is compete with the private insurers same rules, level playing field. Competition is good and I think it will help drive down costs and give consumers they desperately want and need.

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