Health secretary says McDonald's not dropping health plans

A Wall Street Journal report alleging McDonald's might stop covering 30,000 workers because of the health reform law is "flat out wrong," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday.

The story quoted a memo from McDonald's Corp. to federal officials saying it would be "economically prohibitive for our carrier" to continue offering a limited benefits plan to some 30,000 hourly workers if it has to comply with new requirements requiring plans to spend a minimum portion of premiums on care — known as the medical loss ratio.

Sebelius told reporters HHS was in no position to award a waiver on the medical loss ratio requirement because the regulation has yet to be adopted.

"We can't waive a regulation that doesn't even exist," she said.

She said the company asked for a waiver from the law's restrictions on annual limits two weeks ago and received it within 48 hours.

McDonald's says the allegation is "completely false."

Sebelius made the comments at a breakfast event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

She also touted the benefits of the health reform law and said support would grow as Americans realized the personal benefits they stand to gain from the law. She said she has already visited more than 20 states to make that case.

But she quickly added that while jobs was the top issue on voters' minds, the real story of the 2010 elections is the gobs of money being spent opaquely in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision on campaign financing. In a veiled reference to the Tea Party, she encouraged journalists to find out who's funding the movements that are grabbing the headlines. 

"The amount of money being spent is just staggering," she said. "The opaque nature of that money and [the] funding [of] grassroots operations by millionaires and billionaires ... is just pretty alarming."

During the wide-ranging conversation, Sebelius said implementation of the law six months after enactment is going "amazingly well." She also argued Republican efforts to defund the law would not hurt a make-believe "empire" under construction at HHS but rather programs such as the high-risk pools and a program that helps companies cover their early retirees.

"I think all of that could be jeopardized," she said.

Asked about any plans for her or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Don Berwick to respond to Republicans' request that they testify, she said such requests should come from committee chairmen.

Sebelius also pushed back against allegations that she or the administration have any animus toward health insurance companies. To the contrary, she said, the new law will help the private market stay afloat because more and more businesses and individuals have been dropping coverage as prices skyrocket.

"This is a healthcare model built around the private market," she said. "It might be the salvation of the private market."

Sebelius also said pricing information would begin to go up on the HealthCare.gov website on Friday.