Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius appeared flummoxed by questioning from Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) at a hearing on the new health care law Wednesday.
Johnson challenged Sebelius over a number of the Obama administration’s claims about the new health care law, namely that it will reduce the deficit and allow individuals to keep their current healthcare plans.
On several occasions, Sebelius professed to have "no idea" what Johnson was talking about.
Johnson cited a McKinsey Group study that estimated 30 to 50 percent of employers would drop their employee coverage once the new law is fully implement, the effect of which could be hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions, added to the federal deficit.
President Obama has repeatedly claimed that, under the new law, individuals who are satisfied with their current health insurance plans will be able to keep them.
"First of all, if you’ve got health insurance, you like your doctors, you like your plan, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan," he said in July 2009. "Nobody is talking about taking that away from you."
Sebelius could not say with confidence how many employers would drop coverage, or how many would have been forced to drop coverage if not for the thousands of waivers the administration has issued.
"The bottom line here is, the cost of this healthcare law is so uncertain, don’t you think we ought to put the brakes on it?" Johnson asked. "You know, Nancy Pelosi said, ‘We have to pass this law to figure out what’s in it.’ What I don’t want to see is that we have to implement it to figure out how it’s going to bust a hole in our already horribly broken budget."
SEBELIUS: The original estimate, yes. I think that’s–
JOHNSON: Right. So, the original estimate for deficit reduction–
SEBELIUS: I’m assuming–
JOHNSON: The original estimate for deficit reduction in the first 10 years was $143 billion, correct?
JOHNSON: So now we, we’ve reduced that $143 billion by $86 billion - by not getting revenue from the CLASS Act - and now $111 billion because we’ve increased the mandatory costs of the exchanges, correct?
SEBELIUS: I’m assuming the numbers are correct. I’m sorry I don’t have them.
JOHNSON: So, when you add those together, that’s $197 billion added to the first 10-year cost estimate of Obamacare, so now we are instead of saving $143 billion, we are adding $54 billion to our deficit, correct?
SEBELIUS: Sir I --
JOHNSON: We’ll submit that to the record. But, that’s basically true. So instead of saving $143 billion, by this administration’s own figures and budget, we’re now adding $54 billion to our deficit in the first 10 years. To me, that would be the first broken promise. It is true that the President said that by enacting this healthcare law, every family would save $2500 per year, in their family insurance plan - correct?
SEBELIUS: He said that once the exchanges are up and running, and you have an affordable marketplace, the insurance estimates were that the rates would go down by about $2500, yes– that has not occurred yet.
JOHNSON: The Kaiser Family Foundation has already released a study saying that average costs of family healthcare plans is up $2200, correct?
SEBELIUS: Again, there is no new marketplace yet for insurance policies.
JOHNSON: But the costs are already up. We’re already different by $4700; it’s going to be hard to get us down to $2500 cost savings. I would consider that broken promise number two.
It’s also true, that President Obama very famously said, ‘if you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor.’ Period. ‘If you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep your healthcare plan.’ Period. No one will take it away, no matter what. Now, we’ve granted quite a few waivers - about 1,200 to 1,700 waivers - on about 4 million Americans, correct?
SEBELIUS: I’ve no idea what waivers you’re talking about or–
JOHNSON: Well, those are waivers–
SEBELIUS: On doctors and health plans, is that…I–
JOHNSON: Just waivers from having to implement portions of the healthcare law that probably would have allowed those - or forced those workers - off their employer-sponsored care.
SEBELIUS: Again, I’d be happy to answer these questions, but I have no idea what waivers you’re talking about–
JOHNSON: The waivers that HHS has granted to employers not–
SEBELIUS: Which do what?
JOHNSON: Not having implemented sections of the healthcare law.
SEBELIUS: There have been waivers granted to employers, yes.
JOHNSON: And had those waivers not been granted, chances are, those employees probably would have lost their employer-sponsored care, correct?
SEBELIUS: I have no idea. I mean, I’m happy to answer those one at a time and look at the waivers and see what–
JOHNSON: Unfortunately, I’m pretty short on time.