Sebelius: Defunding healthcare would cut off Medicare benefits

Republican plans to choke off funding for implementing the healthcare reform law would prevent Medicare from paying benefits for millions of seniors, according to the Obama administration's top health official.

A seven-month spending bill approved by House Republicans last month would prevent the distribution of funds for implementing the healthcare reform law enacted almost a year ago.

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If the plan passed, the Medicare agency would not be able to pay seniors' bills based on rates calculated in accordance with the reform law, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a Tuesday letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). Further, Sebelius said HHS wouldn't have the authority to pay private plans that administer the popular Medicare Advantage plans, which actually are diminished under the reform law.

"In a system where millions of claims are paid each week, millions of claims would accumulate, which [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] and its contractors would be prohibited form paying at the Affordable Care Act rates," Sebelius said in the letter, writing it would take months to develop new rates.

Democrats in control of the Senate have called the defunding measure a nonstarter, and President Obama would surely veto the attempt to weaken the law. But the Sebelius letter attempts to make clear that the GOP defunding measure would hurt seniors, a significant group of voters.

The office of Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who sponsored the defunding measure, told the Associated Press that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office did not find that defunding had an effect on Medicare payments.


"If Secretary Sebelius is truly concerned about the seniors who benefit from Medicare Advantage, she should join Denny in his effort to repeal ObamaCare," Rehberg spokesman Jed Link told The Hill. "Unfortunately for Montana's seniors, Secretary Sebelius, apparently working hand-in-hand with Sen. Baucus, has instead issued yet another full-throated defense of the law."

A spokesman for Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) quickly jumped on Sebelius's Medicare Advantage claim, pointing out that Republicans have opposed the law's Medicare Advantage cuts.

"Republicans' hypocrisy on this issue is undeniable – they're willing to jeopardize seniors' healthcare as part of their irresponsible budget cuts, after they cried wolf to those seniors for two years during the health reform debate," the Stark spokesman said.