HHS chief welcomes high court’s health care ruling with new grants

Charles Dharapak/AP
One day after the historic Supreme Court ruling upholding the 2010 health care reform law, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called for an end to “political fighting” and rolled out a new offering of grants to help states establish insurance exchanges under law.

Though numerous states had declined to press forward on the exchanges while awaiting the high court’s verdict on the Affordable Care Act, 34 states and the District of Columbia already had accepted shares of some $850 million in HHS grants that help with information gathering and educational outreach in setting up exchanges, either independently or in partnership with the federal government. Under Friday’s announcement, 10 more states will have until 2014 to apply. The deadline was Friday.

“In my travels over the last two years, I have seen firsthand the difference the Affordable Care Act has already made,” said Sebelius in a conference call with reporters. She mentioned 5.2 million seniors who got a $600 refund for prescription drugs, 3.1 million young adults who can stay on their parents’ insurance plans, and 100 million Medicare and private insurance holders who are now getting free mammograms and vaccines.

With the ruling, they now “have peace of mind [that] these benefits will not be taken away,” Sebelius said. “We will keep going forward to make the system better for all middle-class Americans who buy insurance. We look forward to opportunities to improve the law, but we can’t afford to spend any more time refighting political battles or allowing insurance companies to deny coverage to Americans.”

HHS also published new guidance on entering the exchanges and made plans to meet in July with state officials and stakeholders nationwide.

Michael Hash, acting director of HHS’ Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said the department is “on schedule for implementation of the law by Jan. 1, 2014,” while providing states as much flexibility as possible. He noted that President Obama has asked Congress to advance the date for allowing waivers for states setting up exchanges from 2017 to 2014.

Asked about the impact of the Supreme Court’s one alteration in the law-- the ruling’s limits on federal power to use funds to pressure states into participation in Medicaid -- Hash said, “we believe states will take advantage of Medicaid because of the availability of federal funds, now that the court has ruled, based on past experience” with Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. “Not every state participated initially,” he said, but did so within two years.

The Internal Revenue Service, the other agency with major responsibility in implementing the health care law, declined to release a statement in reaction, though its fiscal 2013 budget request may be in jeopardy because of Republican lawmakers’ efforts to defund the law.

HHS on Friday also placed on its home page links to Obama’s video statement reacting to Thursday’s court ruling as well as a White House fact sheet on the workings of the complex law. In addition, HHS offered links to older material promoting the law, such as profiles of people who have benefited and an online tool that allows consumers to find out how the law is being implemented locally.

On the White House blog Thursday, Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle, who was instrumental in negotiating the law’s provisions, reviewed its consumer benefits and called on Congress to focus on creating jobs. “We should also remember,” she wrote, “that under today’s ruling, having health insurance is and will continue to be a choice.”

On Friday, Jason Furman, assistant to the president for economic policy, wrote a similar blog saying the upholding of the Affordable Care Act is a “win for small business.”

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