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Health Care

Sebelius Misstates Obamacare Rules

She said people who get insurance through work can't use Obamacare. They can.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday about the troubled launch of the Healthcare.gov website.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

photo of Sam Baker
October 30, 2013

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius misrepresented part of the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday as she testified before a House committee.

Sebelius told lawmakers it would be "illegal" for her to sign up for coverage through the law's insurance marketplaces because she receives health benefits through her job.

"If I have affordable coverage in my workplace, I'm not eligible to go into the marketplace. That's part of the law," she said.

 

But people who have employer-based coverage are, in fact, allowed to decline that coverage and shop through the exchanges. They simply can't receive tax subsidies to help cover the cost of their premiums, said Tim Jost, a law professor at Washington & Lee University.

Sebelius herself might still be ineligible for the exchanges because she's on Medicare – but that's not the reason she gave at Wednesday's hearing.

The question of which political officials will go into the exchanges is a charged one that often misses the point of Obamacare. The law was primarily designed to serve the individual market – people who don't get insurance through their job and buy it on their own, instead.

Sebelius noted that she has health insurance through her job – the same coverage available to all federal employees who have health care benefits, including members of Congress. And the federal government, like almost all large employers, covers a significant part of its employees' premiums.

Members of Congress and their staffs must purchase coverage through the exchanges, but the federal government can still cover its normal share of their premiums.

By asking Sebelius to buy coverage through the exchanges, Republicans would be asking her to pay her entire premium on her own, despite having access to a traditional employer-based policy.

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