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Press Conference on Implementing the Affordable Care Act

Washington, DC
May 27, 2010

Good afternoon. And welcome to our first media briefing on implementing the Affordable Care Act. I’m pleased to be joined today by three of our department’s senior leaders who are playing key roles in carrying out this law:

  • Marilyn Tavenner, our Deputy Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services;
  • Jeanne Lambrew, the Director of our Office of Health Reform;
  • And Jay Angoff, the Director of our new Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

In the two months since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, we’ve acted quickly to fill critical gaps in our health insurance system and provide immediate relief from rising health costs for families and small businesses. Americans who have waited years for a health reform law to pass are already reaping the benefits.

This has been an administration-wide effort. Our department is taking the lead on many parts of the Affordable Care Act, but the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Justice, the Small Business Administration and many others have also played important roles as we’ve taken our first steps to deliver the promise of this law.

Congress has been a great partner. And we’ve worked closely with states too, hosting a weekly call to get reports from the ground, answer questions, and plan next steps.

We’ve even worked with insurance companies to ensure that two provisions from the new law that were supposed to go into effect in September – a ban on rescissions and expanded coverage for young adults on their parents’ plans – will now kick in right away for many Americans.

Earlier today, I met with several leading insurance CEOs to discuss the progress we’ve made and emphasize how important it is that we continue to work steadily to improve insurance markets that have been failing the American people for so many years.

I also gave them an update on a new “patients bill of rights” that will be put in place next month. This “bill of rights” will give health care consumers simple and clear information about their rights and choices. And there will be a straightforward appeals process to protect those rights.

I’ve previously called on states to use the powers they have to reject unreasonable rate increases, and today, I asked insurers to do their part too. In doing so, I reminded them that the Affordable Care Act gives us a variety of new tools to limit these unjustified hikes – from the right to review these increases to a new requirement that insurers spend at least 80% of premiums on care.

As we proceed, we will continue to look for opportunities to work with insurance companies while also keeping a close watch to make sure they treat their customers fairly.

Going forward on implementation, I will be guided by my experience as both a Governor and Insurance Commissioner. As a former Governor, I know how to balance a budget. And I also know that the first step to implementing a new policy should be making the most of the resources you already have.

So as we carry out the Affordable Care Act, we’re relying heavily on many of the talented health experts spread across our department. Some of them who were here during the Medicare Part D implementation have been especially helpful, sharing lessons from four years ago about what worked and what didn’t.

We’ve also taken the consumer focus I had as Insurance Commissioner and put it at the heart of our efforts. If we have one guiding principle when it comes to implementation, it’s giving Americans more control over their health care.

For years, it felt to many people like their health care challenges kept growing and there was nothing they could do about it. They’d pick up the mail, and there would be the latest rate increase from their insurance company or a notice that their coverage was suddenly being canceled.

They’d look for a new insurance policy, and they’d have to read through pages of fine print or be denied because they had a preexisting condition.

In the last two months, Americans are getting some good news for a change.

Small businesses have been alerted that they may be eligible for a tax credit to help them cover their employees. Parents now know that they can soon cover their adult children on their insurance policies.

Large employers can get the help they need to continue providing coverage to their early-retirees. Seniors have gotten packets in the mail informing them about the new benefits they’ll get under the Affordable Care Act.

And today, we have a couple more announcements about how the new law is taking shape. As you all know, one of the biggest ways the new law helps seniors is by gradually phasing out the Medicare prescription drug donut hole that has made it so hard for so many seniors to afford their medications.

This morning, we posted a new brochure on our website with information for seniors about the first step in this phase-out: a $250 rebate check that will be mailed to any senior who falls into the donut hole this year.

And we can also announce today that we will be continuing our streak of implementing Affordable Care Act provisions ahead of schedule. The first rebate checks will be mailed out on June 10th, five days earlier than planned.

As we move forward, we have two important jobs: to continue to implement this law carefully and responsibly and to keep Americans informed about what’s changing and what’s not. We believe the second job is just as important as the first.

Over the last two months, Americans have been getting a lot of misleading information about this new law. Increasingly, we’re hearing reports of criminals using the law as an opportunity to commit fraud, whether it’s by selling fake insurance policies or tricking seniors into giving away their Medicare numbers.

We’re committed to providing Americans with accurate, up-to-date information about the Affordable Care Act, so that these scare tactics and scam artists don’t take away from this historic legislation.

In the months to come, we’ll continue reaching out to Americans across the country to educate them about this law, answer their questions, and hear their concerns.

As we proceed with implementation, we know there will be twists and turns and bumps along the way. But two months in, it’s clear we’re heading in the right direction.

Thank you, and we’ll be happy to take some questions.