Obama’s Chief Health Official Makes Stop in Columbus

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Just hours after federal employees returned to work, President Obama’s top healthcare official made a stop in Columbus to promote the healthcare law that was at the center of the 16-day shutdown. 

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, joined a panel at the Columbus Metropolitan Library to discuss the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, and how it is impacting Ohio. 

According to Sebelius, 86 percent of Ohioans already have health coverage but are still seeing positive effects from the law. 6,000 Ohioans have received checks back from their insurance companies that didn’t meet the “80/20 rule”, which mandates 80 cents of every insurance premium dollar be spent on health benefits as opposed to CEO salaries or overhead costs. Failure to comply with the rule requires those insurers to issue rebate checks to their customers.

The law’s benefits also extend to college students and those who have recently graduated. 

“There are about 97,000 young adults in Ohio, previously uninsured before the Affordable Care Act, who are now part of their parent’s plan because part of the law says you can be on your parents plan no matter where you live in the country up to age 26,” Sebelius said. 

Sebelius is no stranger to the Buckeye State. She was born and raised in Cincinnati and is the daughter of former Ohio Governor John Gilligan, who passed away in August. Sebelius was Governor of Kansas before being nominated by President Obama in 2009 to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Her trip to Ohio is part of what she calls the “final phase” of implementing the law, where the uninsured, underinsured, and those who simply can’t afford it from their employer can now sign up in the newly established marketplace. It’s estimated that 1.4 million Ohioans fall into that category.

However this final phase hasn’t been without its bumps in the road.

The launch of the health insurance marketplace has been widely criticized. Many reported the website crashed frequently, sometimes not even loading at all. The phone lines didn’t fare better as many were left with long wait times. 

Sebelius addressed the launch issues repeatedly throughout the panel. 

“There is no question the website had a rocky start and I am first to say we wish it could have been a lot smoother from day one,” Sebelius said. “I can tell you its a whole lot better today than it was two weeks ago and, the website, is up and running. It will get better each and every day.”

Sebelius also made a push for the state government to expand Medicaid under the ACA, something currently being pursued by Governor John Kasich despite opposition from the state legislature. 

"If Medicaid expansion is not passed here in Ohio, not only will there be $26 billion in federal funding that won't come into the state over the next ten years to help pay for uninsured Ohioans, but there'll be a lot of Buckeye residents who won't have access to affoardable health coverage," Sebelius said. 

The Ohio Controlling Board is expected to vote Monday on whether the Kasich Adminstration can spend the federal funds. If approved, Medicaid coverage would be extended to an estimated 275,000 Ohioans.