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Cancer comes to an HHS budget hearing

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The difficulty of coping with serious illness hit home Tuesday as members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee gathered for a hearing on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) budget for fiscal year 2014.

Fiscal year 2014 starts Oct. 1.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the committee, noted that one of the senior Democrats on the committee, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., was absent.

McCarthy reported Monday that she is about to begin treatment for a treatable form of lung cancer.

“She will be missing from some time while being treated,” Kline said. :Of course, our prayers are with her.”

During the hearing, Republicans on the commitee pressed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about reports that she had made calls to encourage five private companies to support Enroll America, a nonprofit agency that is supposed to tell consumers about the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) health insurance exchange system.

Sebelius said she was following the approach previous HHS secretaries had used to develop public-private outreach efforts for older HHS programs, including the Medicare Part D prescription drug program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

“I’m not raising money for HHS,” Sebelius said. “I’m raising money for enrollment and outreach activities.”

Sebelius said she talked about money with executives at H&R Block and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She said she talked more generally about Enroll America with executives at Kaiser, Johnson & Johnson and Ascension Health.

Also during the hearing, Sebelius said she believes that the PPACA minimum medical loss ratio (MLR) provision has succeeded at helping to reduce the amount of money health insurers spend on administrative expenses.

One member of the committee, Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., said she encouraged residents in her district to submit questions that they wanted her to ask Sebelius.

Roby said many residents were reluctant to let her use their names, because of reports suggesting that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) might be going after opponents of administration policies.

Link to hearing video.

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