Sebelius: Health care law offers freedom

01/05/2011 12:00 AM

01/05/2011 12:05 AM

Repealing the new federal health care law will put power back in the hands of insurance companies and take away new freedoms that elderly and other Americans are only now discovering as they receive new benefits, President Obama's top health official said Tuesday.

"I believe repealing the law is a bad ideas for Americans," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

She tied the debate directly to Kansas, where she served as governor until 2009: repealing the new law would cost 1.5 million Kansans the new health care relief benefits they are only now beginning to receive, she said. Sixteen thousand young people would lose coverage through their parents' plans made possible by the new law; 30,000 Medicare beneficiaries now enjoying new help from the law in Kansas would lose it with repeal, she said.

Since the 2010 election Republican leaders in Congress have vowed to repeal the new law, saying that businesses can't afford the new costs and the country can't afford the extra tax money they say it will require.

In previewing the administration's new public campaign against repeal, Sebelius said new benefits under the law have freed millions of Americans from worry that they'll lose or be denied coverage, while making it easier for small businesses to sponsor a policy for their employees.

"What we are seeing is that the new law is giving people more freedom and more choices," she said. "It is freeing people from the worst abuses of the insurance companies; it's giving patients a new bill of rights; it's freeing business owners from skyrocketing health care costs."

She said repeal "takes away all of those freedoms and shifts power back to the insurance companies" that for years dictated who got care and who didn't, and who raised CEO salaries and benefits for themselves while increasingly cutting loose the elderly, the poor and children. The new law puts insurance companies "under the bright lights of scrutiny," she said.

House Republicans have said they will schedule a vote for Jan. 12 to repeal the law, calling it a job-killing mandate that raises costs all around and promotes government intrusion in decisions that should be left to individuals and doctors, business owners and regulators at the state level.

They feel invigorated with 85 new members (many of them loyal to the tax-cutting tea party movement). But Democrats still have a 53-47 majority in the new Senate, making a repeal more difficult. Even if Congress did repeal the law, Obama could veto the repeal.

Sebelius, in one of a series of telephone conferences with reporters nationwide on Tuesday, said holding down government costs was a primary function of the new law, and that repealing it would raise the federal deficit by a trillion dollars over the next decade.

"It is so surprising to me that the Republicans want to go back to the status quo that wasn't working too well for families or businesses," she said.

"The evidence so far suggest the reforms are working for millions of Americans; there is no question that repeal would be a huge step backward that we cannot afford."

Republicans have repeatedly warned, since the law passed, that the new mandate would cost a lot and that it is a dangerous extension of federal power.

But Sebelius countered that costs before the new law passed were increasing 130 percent a year for millions of Americans, Sebelius said.

"They want to replace the new law with nothing," she said. "We have a fairly broken system; there is no question that many of the provisions of the law make a big difference to families and many small businesses."

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