U.S. Senator Pat Roberts today raised serious concerns about U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius' statements that attempt to distort the record on Obamacare and cautioned against attempts to stifle criticism of the new law.
Senator Roberts voted to support Senator Mike Enzi's Resolution of Disapproval, S.J. Res 39, to overturn Obamacare. Senator Roberts made the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate:
"Lately it seems that every day a new story comes out about the negative consequences of the health care reform law. I literally cannot keep up with them.
"Remember the campaign pledge that health care reform would immediately reduce families' premiums by $2,500?
"Well, last week a slew of new mandates on health insurers -- including coverage of preventive services without cost-sharing, restrictions on annual limits on coverage, and coverage of "children" up to age 26 -- took effect. Some of them may in fact be beneficial to some Americans. But they will not come for free.
"Health insurers have begun alerting their customers to the fact that these new mandates cost money- money that has to be charged in additional premiums. I think most Americans understand: you can't get something for nothing.
"Instead of admitting that their policies are causing health insurers to raise their rates, the Obama Administration has unleashed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to silence its critics.
"In a letter to America's Health Insurance Plans, Secretary Sebelius explicitly threatens health insurers who don't toe the line on Obamacare with exclusion from the state health insurance exchanges which start in 2014.
""There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases,' she warns. "We will also keep track of insurers with a record of unjustified rate increases: those plans may be excluded from health insurance exchanges in 2014.'
"Let's be clear about what Sebelius, on behalf of the President, is saying here. She is threatening to shut down private companies for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. And she is keeping a list.
"Some have called this "Gangster Government.' As a former newspaper man, I am shocked.
"I am really stunned by my former Governor's actions over the past year or so. First it was the gag order on Humana insurance for daring to describe the consequences of slashing more than $100 billion from Medicare Advantage to their customers. Now this.
"This Administration says that it wants transparency. Well, transparency is a two-way street. It does not mean muzzling dissenting opinions or inconvenient facts because they are not politically advantageous. As the Wall Street Journal opined: "They're more subtle than this in Caracas.'
"Not only are the actions of the Obama Administration unconstitutional, they are also extremely hypocritical in light of their own highly misleading rhetoric.
"For example, President Obama and Secretary Sebelius have been touting the recent decision of health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield in North Carolina to issue rebates to its customers in the individual market as a supposed "Obamacare victory".
"President Obama claimed this "victory' at a recent campaign stop in Virginia, saying that insurance commissioners "are newly empowered to look after consumers.' Secretary Sebelius said this example shows that "we are already seeing [Obamacare's] new level of accountability pay off.'
"Aside from the fact that most state insurance commissioners have had the ability to review rate increases for years, a fact that Secretary Sebelius as a former Kansas Insurance Commissioner knows all too well, they are leaving out another very important fact.
"What they're not telling you is that the reason why the insurer is paying out rebates is that, because of Obamacare, their plans in the individual insurance market will cease to exist in 2014. This means that the reserves that they have stored up to protect their solvency are no longer necessary.
"That's where the rebates are coming from. Not some well of hidden profits. The insurer is paying the rebates out of their reserves because the plans will no longer exist. This is hardly a victory for the thousands of people enrolled in those plans.
"If that isn't misleading, I don't know what is.
"And what about the Secretary's taxpayer-financed mailer regarding Medicare Advantage that was recently sent to seniors across the country?
"This mailer misleadingly claims that Medicare Advantage enrollees will not see any changes to their benefits under Obamacare- a claim that is demonstrably false.
"Already we are seeing insurers like Harvard Pilgrim drop their Medicare Advantage plans altogether as a result of Obamacare's huge cuts. So actually, thousands of seniors WILL see changes in their benefits- they won't have any.
"I urge President Obama and Secretary Sebelius to reconsider their use of these tactics which only serve to further erode the government's credibility with the American people and to insult their elected representatives.
"In the United States of America private citizens are not only allowed to disagree with the government, it is a cornerstone of our democracy. Stop the gag orders and the intimidation. Don't tread on the First Amendment."
Senator Roberts is a member of the Senate Committee on Finance and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.