Health chief says reform bill will expand care
HENDERSON (AP) – President Barack Obama’s health care chief said Monday that animosity toward health care reform will continue to wane as insured and uninsured Americans learn more about the sweeping legislation that was signed into law in March.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius blasted health insurance companies for denying coverage to the nation’s neediest patients. She said the health care law will foster a competitive market that forces companies to provide affordable and thorough coverage or lose customers.
“No longer do insurance companies in the United States get to pick and choose who gets coverage,” Sebelius told a crowd of Democratic supporters in Henderson. “Insurance companies have to actually cover people when they get sick.”
The visit was part of a nationwide tour to promote the legislation during a critical midterm election in which Republicans have made opposition to the law a driving issue.
Under the law, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, consider gender when setting fees, establish lifetime dollar caps or cancel policies retroactively when people get very sick. Adults can continue under their parents’ insurance plan up to the age of 26, and insurance companies must cover preventive care.
At least 30 million people could gain coverage in 2019 when the law is fully phased in. More than 20 million others would remain uninsured.
A recent Associated Press poll found that Americans who think the law does not do enough outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care by 2-to-1.
Sebelius said the law will promote a healthier America while also reducing the federal deficit.
Jeff Walker, a Las Vegas electrician, said his family nearly went bankrupt after his youngest son was diagnosed with cancer despite having what he then thought was quality health insurance. He said his insurance company would only cover $100,000 toward his son’s $180,000 stem cell transplant treatment.
If his son relapses, Walker said he will have to sell his house and his car to pay for a second transplant.
“I can’t look him in the eyes and say, ‘Hey, son, I can’t afford the treatment,”‘ Walker said.
Walker will now be able to obtain coverage for his son under the law if he decides to change providers.
Sebelius, who stopped first in Reno on Monday for a similar event, said she has visited roughly 26 states in recent months to promote the massive legislation.
Sebelius denied that her tour was designed to buoy struggling Democrats facing fierce opposition from rivals who support repealing the law.
“It’s really not about the politics of the bill,” she said.
But Nevada Republicans quickly tied the event to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Dina Titus, Nevada Democrats who voted for the legislation and are now in tight re-election races. Titus hosted Monday’s event with Sebelius in her suburban Las Vegas district.
“Sharron Angle sides with the citizens of Nevada and strongly supports repealing and replacing ObamaCare while Harry Reid has totally ignored Nevadans in order to please President Obama,” said Jerry Stacy, a spokesman for Angle, who is running against Reid.
Titus’ rival, former state Sen. Joe Heck, decried the “government takeover of health care” in a campaign statement.
Sebelius also urged Americans to rally against insurance companies plotting to diminish their services or fight the reform in other ways. She said some insurers have threatened to stop providing coverage to children to avoid some of the law’s mandates.
“It’s a practice that needs some consumer outcry,” she said.