Sebelius reiterates Obama's support for public option

Pressing hard on the urgency of needed health reform, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a set of new state-by-state reports this week documenting the nation's broken health system.

The new reports reveal that it doesn't matter which state or region, 'the health care crisis impacts all of America,' Sebelius told reporters on a conference call June 26. In her responses to questions, she reiterated President Obama's support for a public option as part of the needed reforms.

The reports, produced by HHS's Agency for Health Research and Quality, showed a dire picture of far too many people without coverage and far too many with insurance who have only inadequate access to care. 'Skyrocketing health care costs are hurting families, forcing businesses to cut or drop health benefits, and straining state budgets,' the reports point out. 'Millions are paying more for less.'

In a state like North Dakota, for example, 11 percent of the state's residents have no insurance, even though 70 percent of those people are from households with at least one full-time worker.

In South Carolina, the cost of the average family premium has risen by 92 percent since 2000 alone.

In Montana, a typical family plan premium costs more than $12,000, and just two private insurance companies dominate about 85 percent of the market.

Small businesses in Arizona constitute 73 percent of the state's businesses, but only 32 percent of them are able to provide health care benefits. Increasing costs have driven that number down by almost one-fifth since 2000, the HHS report showed.

In Texas, insurance companies are legally allowed to exclude or deny coverage to people they believe have 'preexisting conditions,' essentially ensuring that people who need coverage the most will struggle to get needed care. The HHS report labeled the overall quality of care in that state as 'weak.'

The high cost of care causes 13 percent of people in Indiana to go without needed medical attention, and the percent of state residents with employment-based coverage has declined from 71 percent to 66 percent since 2000.

This problem is worse in Kentucky where 17 percent of people report doing without care because of costs, and the number of residents with employment-based coverage has fallen to less than 6 in 10. The main issue, again, is that small businesses have dropped employee benefits in growing numbers since 2000 because of high costs.

Similar alarming numbers can be found in every state, the HHS found.

'These are more than just numbers and facts, more than just numbers on a page,' Secretary Sebelius remarked. 'They represent real people and families in states across the country who are struggling.'

Responding to reporters' questions about the inclusion of a public option in the health reform package, Sebelius restated President Obama's support for the public option as a competition mechanism that provides 'the best way to have cost containment.'

Referring to bills being drafted in both houses of Congress right now, Sebelius said, 'I think it's pretty clear with the bills coming forward that a public option is definitely part of the strategy.'

She said the proposed reforms in the bill will help small businesses provide employee benefits. It will give the uninsured and underinsured access to health care coverage, including a choice of a public plan.