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Kathleen Sebelius in Miami: FL lawmakers, Gov. Scott have put people "at risk," hide public info


The Obama Administration's top health official, Kathleen Sebelius, swiped at Florida Republicans during a Miami event today for "keeping information from people" and putting them "at risk" when it comes to the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Led by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature, Republicans have questioned the security of the new Obamacare system, refused to help implement it or expand Medicaid under the law, tried to block some healthcare-outreach workers from county health departments and stripped the state insurance commissioner’s authority to negotiate or refuse rates for plans on new Obamacare marketplaces for two years.

"It isn’t about my job being more difficult. It really is a conversation about Florida citizens who have a right to know what the law is and what benefits they may be entitled to receive," Sebelius, the Health and Human Services Secretary said.

"It’s unfortunate that keeping information from people seems to be something of a pattern here in this state," she said.

Sebelius has been barnstorming select states that resisted efforts to implement Obamacare's individual mandate, which would start to require people to buy health coverage starting Oct. 1 or eventually face a penalty tax.

Sebelius' Miami visit is the fifth in Florida since June and underscores the high stakes over the health program in the Sunshine State, where about a quarter of the residents are uninsured -- the second highest rate in the nation. The uninsured rate is even higher in Miami-Dade, Florida's most-populous county, where about a third of residents lack health insurance.

But despite the apparent need in Florida, the law has steadily remained unpopular overall here and in the nation. The Republican Party of Florida issued a press statement calling her visit part of "the Obama administration’s crisis management PR campaign."

Sebelius stressed the importance of the law to Hispanics, who tend to have less health coverage than non-Hispanic whites.

In her remarks before taking a few reporter questions, Sebelius singled out Florida's new law that blocks the insurance commissioner from reviewing rates for new Obamacare plans.

"Unfortunately, what has happened here in Florida with passage of legislation that actually removed the rate-review authority from the state insurance commissioner is unique in the country. No one else has done that," she said.

"And the federal government does not have a rate-review authority," Sebelius said. "To have the Florida Legislature pass a bill that for two years – 2014 and 2015 – removes rate-review authority really puts Florida consumers at great risk."

Scott yesterday penned a letter to congressional leaders to raise awareness about a Minnesota worker who incorrectly emailed the social security numbers and other identifying information for about 2,400 insurance agents to a man applying to becoming a health-outreach coordinator known as a "navigator."

Sebelius suggested the concern about the federal system was unfounded: "Actually, the data-security issue in Minnesota has nothing to do with the federal government data hub. Minnesota is running its own market place. It was an employee, if I understand it, in the Minnesota office who inadvertently gave some information about insurance agents [or] Social Security Numbers. So that was not the federal data hub. It didn’t involve us at all. We have a lot of experience securing data. We run Medicare, which has over 50 million Americans as beneficiaries. We run, in partnership with the states, the Medicaid program – lots of information. And we have built lots of redundancies into the federal data hub. And I appreciate the concerns about privacy and security. I can guarantee you: We take that very, very seriously, which is why nobody will be collecting personal health information at all at any point along the way. They don’t need personal health information for the new marketplaces. They will not be storing, and we will not be storing anybody’s personal financial information. Verifying it, yes. Storing it, no."

Said Scott in a written statement: “I disagree with the Secretary. The privacy concerns of Americans are certainly worthy of federal attention.”

Without mentioning Sen. Marco Rubio by name, Sebelius also took issue with a concern he raised about SeaWorld, which announced job cuts that appeared to be linked to Obamacare health changes.

Sebelius said that wasn't the case.

"What was reported as SeaWorld to be a decision based on health-care costs, the SeaWorld executive said absolutely was not true. They’re actually adding full-time workers, leveling off part-time workers. But there will be more full-time workers who will have health benefits," she said. "And for anybody who’s working part-time right now – and there are lots of individuals working part-time – they have great news coming: They will have affordable health coverage for the first time ever in the new markets."

Considering some of the missed deadlines and delayed implementations of the employer mandate, why not delay Obamacare a year until its fully ready to implement?

"No one on the Hill who is suggesting delay wants the program to work. Let’s be honest really about that conversation. We’ve had 40 votes in the House of Representatives to repeal the law," Sebelius said, ticking off the various benefits people have started to enjoy under it.