Dem sees 'train wreck' for health-law rollout

2013-04-18T00:00:00Z Dem sees 'train wreck' for health-law rolloutThe Associated Press The Associated Press
April 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - A senior Democratic senator who helped write President Obama's health-care law stunned administration officials 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 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 nose-dived 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 at Wednesday's 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 January 2014 and to be open for open enrollment."

That open-enrollment launch 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 if 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.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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