Co-author ofhealth care overhaul predicts 'train wreck'
WASHINGTON — A senior Democratic senator who helped write President Obama's health care law stunned administration officials on Wednesday, saying openly he thinks it's headed for a “train wreck” because of bumbling implementation.
“I just see a huge train wreck coming down,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told Obama's health care chief during a routine budget hearing that suddenly turned tense.
Baucus is the first top Democrat to publicly voice fears about the rollout of the new health care law, designed to bring coverage to about 30 million uninsured people through a mix of government programs and tax credits for private insurance.
Polls show that Americans remain confused by the complex law, and even many uninsured people are skeptical they will be helped by benefits that start next year.
A six-term veteran, Baucus expects a tough re-election in 2014. He's still trying to recover from approval ratings that nosedived amid displeasure with the health care law in his home state.
Normally low-key and supportive, Baucus challenged Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during the hearing.
He said he's “very concerned” that new health insurance marketplaces for consumers and small businesses will not open on time in every state, and that if they do, they might just flop because residents don't have the information they need to make choices.
“The administration's public information campaign on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act deserves a failing grade,” he told Sebelius. “You need to fix this.”
Responding to Baucus, Sebelius pointedly noted that Republicans in Congress last year blocked funding for carrying out the health care law, and she had to resort to raiding other legally available departmental funds.
The administration is asking for $1.5 billion in next year's budget, and Republicans don't seem willing to grant that, either.
At one point, as Sebelius tried to answer Baucus' demand for facts and figures, the senator admonished: “You haven't given me any data; you just give me concepts, frankly.”
“I don't know what he's looking at,” Sebelius told reporters following her out of the room after Baucus adjourned the hearing. “But we are on track to fully implement marketplaces in Jan. 2014, and to be open for open enrollment.”
That open-enrollment date is only months away, Oct. 1. It's when millions of middle-class consumers who don't get coverage through their jobs can start shopping for a private plan in the new marketplaces. They'll also be able to find out whether they qualify for tax credits that will lower their premiums. At the same time, low-income people will be steered to government programs, mainly an expanded version of Medicaid.
But half the states, most of them Republican-led, have refused to cooperate in setting up the infrastructure of Obama's law. Others, like Montana, are politically divided. The overhaul law provided that the federal government would step in and run the new markets if a state failed to do so. Envisioned as a fallback, federal control now looks like it will be the norm in much of the country, straining resources.
Administration officials say their public outreach campaign will begin in earnest over the summer. They question the wisdom of bombarding consumers with insurance details now, when there's not yet anything to sign up for. Baucus said in his state, that vacuum has mostly been filled by misinformation.
After the hearing, Baucus' office clarified that he still thinks the Affordable Care Act is a good law, but he questions how it is being carried out.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Issa demands Labor records that he says show government waste
- Conn. expert set to guide Obamacare exchanges
- Mexican leader given message: Free Marine from border jail
- Justice Department to investigate DEA’s payment to Amtrak informant
- Police: Drugs, alcohol not factors in Freeh crash
- Rosa Parks’ apartment in Montgomery, Ala., hit by copper-seeking thieves
- Powerful GOP leaders linked to tax-avoidance
- Wis. woman identified shooter before dying, court papers show
- Teen gets 5-15 years for killing 4 friends in 100-mph crash
- Cause of New Mexico nuclear-waste accident remains a mystery
- Audio of Mo. shooting emerges, said to be authentic