WASHINGTON — A senior Democratic senator who helped write the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) stunned administration officials Wednesday, saying openly he thinks it’s headed for a “train wreck” because of bumbling implementation.
“I just see a huge train wreck coming down,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told Obama’s health care chief during a routine budget hearing that suddenly turned tense.
Baucus is the first top Democrat to publicly voice fears about the rollout of the new health care law, designed to bring coverage to some 30 million uninsured Americans through a mix of government programs and tax credits for private insurance that start next year. Polls show the public remains confused by the complexity of the law, and even many uninsured people are skeptical that they will be helped.
A six-term Democrat, Baucus expects to face a tough re-election in 2014. He’s still trying to recover from approval ratings that nosedived amid displeasure with the health care law in his home state.
Normally low-key and supportive, Baucus challenged Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at Wednesday’s hearing.
He said he’s “very concerned” that new health insurance exchanges for consumers and small businesses will not open on time in every state, and that if they do, they might just flop because residents don’t have the information they need to make choices.
“The administration’s public information campaign on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act deserves a failing grade,” he told Sebelius. “You need to fix this.”
Responding to Baucus, Sebelius pointedly noted that Republicans in Congress last year blocked funding for carrying out the health care law, and she had to resort to raiding other departmental funds that were legally available to her.
The administration is asking for $1.5 billion in next year’s budget, and Republicans don’t seem willing to grant that, either.
At one point, as Sebelius tried to answer Baucus’ demand for facts and figures, the senator admonished: “You haven’t given me any data; you just give me concepts, frankly.”
“I don’t know what he’s looking at,” Sebelius told reporters following her out of the room after Baucus adjourned the hearing. “But we are on track to fully implement marketplaces in Jan. 2014, and to be open for open enrollment.”