Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama’s nominee to succeed Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of Health and Human Services, appeared Thursday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
She told lawmakers that the Affordable Care Act has expanded health coverage, reduced health insurance premiums and slowed the rise in health care costs.
Ms. Burwell received a favorable hearing from the committee, including Republican members like Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, who noted her “reputation for competence” as head of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who declared her a “tremendous asset.”
Yet certain of the HHS nominee’s statements about Obamacare gave us pause. Not the least because her predecessor, Ms. Sebelius, had a tendency to obfuscate about the president’s putative health care reform.
Most troubling was Ms. Burwell’s suggestion that the president’s health care law has lowered the cost of coverage for the 8 million Americans — so the administration claims — that have enrolled in Obamacare.
Indeed, a report this month by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation confirms that premiums are (relatively) low.
For the entire U.S., they are $265 a month for the average 27-year-old enrollee; $435 for the average 50-year-old enrollee. In California, they are slightly higher: $272 a month for the average 27-year-old and $462 for the average 50-year-old enrollee.
But Obamacare’s low premiums are more than offset by costly deductibles, as evidenced by data for Covered California, the state-run health exchange.
The annual deductible for silver-level health plans — for which 62 percent of Covered California customers have enrolled — is $2,000. The 26 percent of Covered California enrollees that have opted for Obamacare’s bronze-level plan — which offers lower monthly premiums — is a whopping $5,000.
Also boosting the total cost of care are the out-of-pocket costs of receiving care from out-of-network providers.
Anthem Blue Cross, which claims 30 percent of Covered California’s enrollees, the biggest share of the state’s Obamacare market, says that out-of-pocket maximums for out-of-network providers range from $10,000 to $15,000 for individuals and $20,000 to $30,000 for families.
An Anthem spokesman urged Covered California enrollees to do their homework before receiving care. But as the CHCF Center for Health Reporting pointed out, a person needing surgery, for instance, can make sure his or her doctor and hospital are in-network, but they have no way of knowing if those assisting in the surgery — like the radiologist and anesthesiologist — are, as well.
By emphasizing Obamacare’s low premiums, while almost completely ignoring its unaffordable deductibles and its sky-high out-of-network maximums, Ms. Burwell made the president’s government-mandated health insurance appear far less expensive than it truly is.
It’s the kind of sin of omission for which Ms. Sebelius has been notorious since Obamacare’s botched rollout in October. The American people deserve more far more forthrightness from her successor.
— From the Orange County Register