Sebelius talks up health care reform in Houston

By Lora Hines | August 19, 2013

It was the buzz on news websites. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was going to make a “major announcement” in Houston regarding the health care law.

But Sebelius didn’t unveil a plan to extend Medicaid coverage to uninsured Texans – something Gov. Rick Perryopposes. Nor did she announce a breakthrough to establish a Texas solution for health care reform.

Instead, Sebelius met with Houston officials, plus health care, business and community leaders, continuing what Perry has described as an “Obamacare” promotion tour.

The “major announcement” that the secretary’s handlers promised afterward – was the kickoff of a nationwide video contest to inform young adults about their need to buy health coverage.

Library meeting

Monday’s meeting with about two dozen people at the downtown Julia Ideson Library included U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Dr. Robert Robbins, CEO of the Texas Medical Center. Sebelius said her office would work with advocacy groups and community health centers to ensure enrollment of uninsured residents into health coverage would operate as smoothly as possible.

Earlier this month, Sebelius, held similar meetings in Austin and San Antonio to discuss implementation of the 2010 federal health care law.

After Monday’s meeting, the secretary held a brief news conference, saying she has traveled the state to meet officials, including Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who “are eager to fully implement the Affordable Care Act.”

Sebelius reiterated much of what she has said about the law and again acknowledged that she knows Perry and other state leaders don’t want to participate in it. Perry will not expand Medicaid to include about 1.5 million uninsured Texans. Nor is he willing to establish a state insurance marketplace, forcing federal officials to create one for Texas.

No longer a debate

“This is the law,” Sebelius repeated. “It’s really not a political debate anymore.”

The insurance marketplaces open on Oct. 1. Navigators will help the uninsured understand the health insurance marketplaces and enroll in coverage.

Despite Texas’ current stance, Sebelius said the state’s opportunity to expand Medicaid remains open.

She then traveled to Legacy Community Health Services‘ Montrose clinic, where she announced the launch of a video contest to educate young people about the health care law. Contestants have until Sept. 23 to submit videos to raise awareness about the law and encourage young people to enroll for coverage. The grand prize is $6,500.

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