Sebelius: Time for ‘Reeducation’ on Obama Health Care Law

Aug 30, 2010 6:10pm

ABC News' Steven Portnoy reports: 

With a number of polls showing a sustained level of opposition to the Democrats’ health care reform efforts more than five months after passage, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the Obama administration has “a lot of reeducation to do” heading into the midterms.

While some surveys – namely the Kaiser Family Foundation monthly tracking poll  – have suggested an uptick in support for the reforms, most other surveys continue to show a steady level of opposition to the new law that remains higher than the favorable opinions of it.

“Unfortunately, there still is a great deal of confusion about what is in [the reform law] and what isn’t,” Sebelius told ABC News Radio in an interview Monday. 

With several vulnerable House Democrats touting their votes against the bill, and Republicans running on repeal, Sebelius said “misinformation given on a 24/7 basis” has led to the enduring opposition nearly six months after the lengthy debate ended in Congress. 

“So, we have a lot of reeducation to do,” Sebelius said.

The administration is particularly concerned about the views of senior citizens – who “have been a target of a lot of the misinformation,” according to the health secretary.

As of Monday, one million seniors have received $250 rebate checks to help them fill the “donut hole” in Medicare’s prescription drug coverage.  Sebelius says by the end of the year, as many as four million Part D participants may get checks.

“Once people understand that [the rebate checks are] just one of the new features for Medicare beneficiaries, they become increasingly more enthusiastic,” Sebelius told ABC News.

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll, taken in July, 50 percent of Americans disapproved of the president’s handling of health care, with 45 percent saying they approved.  The level of disapproval was stronger than approval of the Obama administration’s actions.

But the latest Kaiser poll – also taken in July – shows 50 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of the health care reform law, with 35 percent holding an unfavorable view.  Support in the Kaiser poll was up four points from the organization’s April tracking poll, with opposition down five points. 

However, among those 65 years and older, 43 percent said in July that Medicare would be “worse off” under the reforms, compared to 25 percent who said the program would be “better off.”

Sebelius says she understands the concerns of American seniors.

“They’re worried about what happens to their benefits in the future, worried about what happens to the overall stability of Medicare.”

The secretary says she “strongly” disagrees with what her immediate predecessor, former Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week suggesting the changes to Medicare in the health care law merely create the “illusion” of reform.

“It does not ease cost pressures but papers over them with unsustainable price controls,” Leavitt wrote.

Sebelius argues the reforms “strengthen” Medicare, extending its solvency by 12 years through 2029.

“My view is actually supported by independent actuaries, by economists and by the Congressional Budget Office,” Sebelius said.

-Steven Portnoy

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