Sebelius Hits Critics of Health Law for Misstating Costs

U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius criticized Republican state leaders warning of big premium increases due to the Affordable Care Act, saying today that their numbers are “just factually incorrect.”

Republican officials in Georgia, Indiana and Ohio have predicted premium increases of as much as 200 percent as one of the law’s chief components, online insurance marketplaces, take effect. Leaders in Democratic-led states including New York and California have said smaller increases or savings will occur when subsidies accompanying the law are included.

Sebelius also said her department wasn’t worrying about a “pretty dismal” effort by conservative groups to discourage young people from signing up for the health law’s new insurance plans. Two months before enrollment begins for the online exchanges, the project is on schedule, the secretary said in a conference call with reporters.

“We are on target and ready to flip the switch on Oct. 1,” Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters. The markets “are already increasing competition and giving consumers a better deal.”

Congressional analysts project the online markets will attract about 7 million people in their debut next year, when the law bans insurers from rejecting consumers with medical conditions. To keep the system financially stable, the White House has said it needs about 2.7 million of the new enrollees to be young, healthy customers.

Burning Cards

That sales pitch is running into warnings from Republicans that younger customers will see premiums soar. FreedomWorks, a group tied to the Tea Party movement, is campaigning to discourage people from signing up, with rallies to burn “Obamacare draft cards,” evoking campus protests in the 1960s against the Vietnam War.

Sebelius said she has no idea how the opposition may affect her effort and isn’t spending time trying to figure it out. Without naming specific states, she said some had issued misleading numbers -- for example, presenting an average premium increase as the raise every customer would face.

“We’re just going to continue to proceed and talk to people about the benefits of health insurance, the fact that they’ll have very affordable insurance in every market,” she said.

September Premiums

Premiums for all the states will be available in September, an administration official said on the call. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because only the secretary was authorized to make public statements.

Messages weren’t immediately returned by Glenn Allen, a spokesman for Georgia’s insurance commissioner and Dennis Rosebrough, a spokesman for Indiana’s insurance department. Robert Denhard, a spokesman for the Ohio insurance department, declined to comment on the remarks by Sebelius.

Georgia consumers will see “massive increases” of as much as 198 percent, Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said in a statement July 30.

“I was always skeptical of Obamacare” Hudgens said. “But I never imagined that it would lead to rates being doubled or tripled. Increases of this magnitude will make coverage less affordable and increase the number of uninsured in Georgia.”

Sebelius said the department was moving ahead with plans to build and publicize the exchanges, even as it struggles with federal budget cuts and congressional Republicans’ refusal to provide additional money for the program.

The administration today unveiled a feature on its website that will help consumers start filling out the application for coverage immediately. It also announced a call center devoted to helping small businesses use the markets.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Nussbaum in New York at anussbaum1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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