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Some states' claims of Obamacare price spike are 'incorrect:' HHS

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before a House Education and the Workforce Committee
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before a House Education and the Workforce Committee

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Forecasts by some U.S. states that show health insurance costs skyrocketing under Obamacare are "factually incorrect," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Monday.

Sebelius, President Barack Obama's top healthcare adviser, did not name the states, but said that the administration will set the record straight on costs for the uninsured in September.

She also criticized conservative groups for trying to discourage enrollment in the new health insurance exchanges and lamented that the Obamacare roll-out would not have the kind of marketing budget available for a new Apple product or Hollywood movie.

"It's unfortunate that in some instances, I think, erroneous information is being advanced as if these are the final rates available in the marketplace and that this is what consumers will be paying. And that's just not accurate," Sebelius said during a wide-ranging conference call with reporters.

Predictions that Obama's healthcare reform will be expensive for consumers could hamper the administration's aim to sign up as many as 7 million uninsured Americans via state insurance exchanges for next year.

Several Republican-controlled states including Indiana, Florida and Georgia have warned in recent weeks of unprecedented spikes in coverage costs for new plans that will be sold via online insurance exchanges beginning on October 1.

These states have rejected Obamacare by opting to let the administration establish a federal marketplace for their residents rather than build their own. In contrast, states that have embraced Obama's healthcare reforms have said that new plans to be sold in their exchanges will save money for residents when coverage begins next year.

Sebelius said one unnamed state estimated costs by simply averaging the premiums on all health plans proposed by insurers, while a second provided little supporting data for its conclusions.

"The information statements put out at the state level are just factually incorrect," she said.

The secretary vowed to "clarify once and for all what these rates are" by releasing complete information in September.

"PRETTY DISMAL EFFORT"

The health insurance reform is under mounting attack from foes including Republicans in Congress, who have twice denied HHS hundreds of millions of dollars in new implementation money this year. Officials in Republican-controlled states have also sought to restrict actions that might benefit implementation, while Tea Party and conservative groups are readying campaigns to discourage enrollment in the exchanges.

"I don't think we're going to spend a lot of time and effort trying to estimate who they may discourage from getting health insurance," Sebelius said. "It's a pretty dismal effort under way."

With congressional funding unavailable, the administration has scraped together about $1.25 billion to fund the entire implementation effort this year, including completion of an information technology backbone for the exchanges, a massive public education campaign and other activities.

Sebelius said the administration's aim is to wring as much promotional value as possible from each dollar spent on public education.

"In spite of the fact that this is a brand new effort and kind of a brand new marketing target, we won't have the kind of resources that Apple had when it rolled out their iPhone and iPad. We'd love to have that. We'd love to have the money that a movie studio has when they're about to launch a new hit over the course of several months," she said.

"I'm confident that the resources that we have are going to be well leveraged and well used and hopefully amplified by lots of our partners throughout the country."

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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