The person overseeing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made a brief visit to Nashville Thursday to push for more people to enroll in the health care program that is often called Obamacare.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appeared with Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, along with an ACA enrollee at the United Neighborhood Health Services clinic in the Madison area.
Her visit comes just days before this year's March 31 deadline to obtain medical coverage for 2014 through the health insurance exchanges or online Marketplace as it's now called at Healthcare.gov.
After listing other available locations to sign up for the ACA such as Nashville libraries and neighborhood clinics, Sebelius faced questions that included changes to the programs and it's and cost.
“I don't know how to answer that question,” she replied when asked if there are they any parts of the Affordable Care Act that won't be delayed in the future. “I don't have any idea. It's a complicated law. It's basically in place right now and we anticipate full implementation.”
The Secretary defended stories of rising premiums for non-Obamacare coverage by saying “health insurance premiums have risen at about half the rate in the last four years than they did in the ten years prior to the health care bill being signed.”
Insurance brokers have told News 2 that about half of those enrolling in Obamacare will pay less than what they do now in their current or previous health insurance plans, especially if they are eligible for subsidies from the program.
Brokers say the other half will be paying more because the policies need to be compliant with ACA rules to provide a certain level of benefits and coverage.
The Secretary did offer a different number of people that would be covered in Tennessee if Medicaid was expanded to a level allowed by the Affordable Care Act.
Sebelius said that figure was 520,000 compared to the 175,000 estimated by Governor Haslam's administration.
Mr. Haslam has spoken with Sebelius about his plan to use the Medicaid expansion money from the ACA to help low income Tennesseans purchase health insurance.
He would need her approval of the Secretary's department for the plan, but nothing has been decided one way or another.
A spokesman for Sebelius said she did not meet with the governor during her brief Nashville visit.
Included were a few spectators along with reporters in the front lobby of the clinic.
One of them was Nashville Tea Party founder and longtime critic of Obamacare Ben Cunningham.
“This was a taxpayer-funded pep rally in here, and the reason they are having these taxpayer-funded pep rallies is because people are not signing up for Obamacare. They are not getting the young people, not enough of the uninsured,” Cunningham told News 2.
Its reference to fears that younger, healthier adults are not enrolling in Obamacare in numbers to keep healthcare premiums from increasing dramatically.
A spokesperson for the Secretary said, “She has an obligation to inform taxpayers of potential benefits,” and he added, “she flew coach in and out of Nashville.”
Sebelius was in Nashville for just a few hours before leaving for similar events in Houston and other parts of Texas.