Members Press HHS Secretary on Rising Obamacare Price Tag, Lack of Transparency and Religious Rights Violation

March 1, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), today held a hearing to examine the Department of Health and Human Services' Fiscal Year 2013 budget. Members focused on how the government takeover of our nation's health care system is exacerbating our nation's record-high debt and the administration's lack of transparency and accountability in establishing the new health care mandates on individuals, states, and job creators.

Pitts said, "There is a lot of regulatory uncertainty regarding the rules of the road. States, health providers, small businesses, and patients have been asking for final or even just proposed federal rules as they relate to PPACA's exchanges. The stakes are high since taxpayers are on the hook for a new trillion dollar entitlement program."

When pressed, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted that HHS had failed to release a final rule for the federal and state-based exchanges, requirements for states to receive final approval of their exchange, federal accreditation of health plans, guaranteed issue and community rating plans, or the "essential health benefits."

Pitts said, "This is symbolic with the state of regulation with Washington. Washington writes some vague rules for some parts of the law. Deadlines are not met, and Washington thinks it can just dump a thousand rules on the states in the last minute without regards for patients' health."

Health Subcommittee Vice Chair Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX) expressed concern regarding the $111 billion total increase in cost to implement the health care law. Burgess said, "That is a 30 percent increase" and insisted the secretary follow up with an explanation for the increase, "from the standpoint of the oversight function of this committee, I think we have to have that."

Members also questioned the administration's recent rules that threaten longstanding protections of religious freedom.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) highlighted a CRS memo that outlines possible penalties for religious employers that fail to comply with the HHS' mandate to cover drugs or services that violate their religious or moral convictions. "In my state there's a hospital, Borgess Hospital, it is a part of the Ascension Hospital, and they employ 31,000 people. According to this CRS memo, Ascension is likely to be subject to fines over $1 billion." Upton questioned how HHS would accommodate self-insured employers, such as Borgess Hospital, that the White House's "accommodation" fails to protect. Secretary Sebelius provided no details regarding how these employers' conscience would be protected. Burgess responded, "it bothers me that there will be a fine for faith."

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