WASHINGTON May 28 U.S. Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asked a group representing
nearly 46,000 physician assistants on Tuesday to help persuade
uninsured Americans to sign up for coverage under President
Barack Obama's healthcare reform law.
As part of a politically embattled administration effort to
rally support for the landmark reform law, Sebelius appealed to
physician assistants as care providers who treat large numbers
of people with little or no health insurance, including those in
Republican-controlled states that have rejected the 2010 Patient
Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Sebelius, Obama's top healthcare adviser, has run into
mounting opposition from Republicans over efforts to marshal
private sector support for a public outreach campaign that could
determine whether Obama's signature domestic policy achievement
succeeds or flops, just as the 2014 midterm election campaign
gets under way.
Republicans in Congress, who are blocking public funds for
reform implementation, say Sebelius may have acted improperly by
seeking private donations for a nonprofit group that will help
lead a public outreach campaign this summer. The administration
says Sebelius's actions were fully authorized by law.
"It's absolutely critical that we reach out to uninsured
Americans and get them ready to sign up for coverage," Sebelius
told a meeting of the American Academy of Physician Assistants,
which has 46,000 members.
"You're already a trusted source of health information," she
said. "They come to you with questions about their future. And
for you to learn about the new options coming their way and
helping to share that information could be a huge bridge that we
Physician assistants are not medical doctors but practice
medicine as part of medical teams in hospitals, clinics and
physician practices. They represent a fast-growing job segment
in healthcare, with 6,000 new entries each year to a field that
currently includes about 100,000 practitioners.
Under the reform law, millions of uninsured people will
become eligible on Jan. 1 for subsidized private health
insurance, either through new online state marketplaces or an
expanded Medicaid program for the poor.
The Obama administration has already committed hundreds of
millions of dollars to a summer publicity campaign to persuade
young, healthy uninsured people to sign up for coverage. Large
numbers are needed to avoid a potential spike in costs that
could occur if new customers are limited to sick or older people
who are costlier to insure.
Tuesday's appeal by Sebelius could help reach uninsured
populations in isolated rural and urban settings, where doctors
are in short supply and physician assistants are often the
caregivers who patients see.
Since January, the health secretary has spoken to a wide
range of "stakeholders" including companies and nonprofit groups
to encourage nonfinancial support for reform implementation and
public outreach, according to HHS officials.
Sebelius's remarks to physician assistants followed on the
heels of a $150 million program to use health centers as health
insurance enrollment sites by hiring and training thousands of
new outreach staff.
She said physician assistants have considerable experience
with the uninsured and understand that many have given up on the
idea of being able to afford coverage or live in a state whose
leaders oppose the healthcare reform law.
"Connecting uninsured and underinsured patients that you
already serve with quality health insurance that they may need
for their future is one of the best things that we can do to
advance their health," she said.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Leslie Adler)