Secretary Sebelius lays out the stakes…

HHS Secretary Sebelius spoke this morning at the Families USA conference in Wasington, DC: Read the whole thing at the HHS website.

Several California advocates are here, as is Peter Lee, executive director of the California Health Exchange, who just spoke at a plenary this evening. (we live tweeted both presentations, and more…) I wanted to spotlight Sebelius’ speech, because it laid out the work of the next year. Here’s just an excerpt:

In fact, I believe that over the next few months, we’ll see the biggest barrage of attacks and misinformation about the law that we’ve seen yet. The law’s opponents are going to take their best shot. And the reason why is that they know that the facts are not on their side.

When the health care law passed, they predicted everything short of Armageddon. But today, we can simply look at the facts. Instead of the economy crashing, we’ve had steady job growth, with health care leading the way. Instead of Medicare crumbling, seniors have seen their premiums fall even as they enjoy key new benefits. Instead of providers rebelling, we’ve seen an unprecedented wave of interest in the new tools the law gives doctors and nurses to improve care.

The law’s opponents are going to step up their attacks because they can see their window to attack is closing. At the same time, the upcoming anniversary of the law and a Supreme Court Decision will put a new spotlight on the law in the coming months. That makes those next few months critical. And if we want to come out of them in a stronger position than we are now, we need to do two things.

First, we need to educate people about the law. After two years of smears and misinformation, there are still far too many Americans who don’t know the basic facts about the law and the benefits available to them. There are too many seniors who are still putting off that colon cancer screening because they don’t know they no longer have to pay a co-pay. There are too many parents who are still worrying because they don’t realize that insurance companies can no longer turn away their children with pre-existing conditions. There are too many small business owners who aren’t aware that they’ll soon be able to band together to negotiate the same low rates as large employers.

In particular, we need to let people know about the parts of the law that can help them right now. The more we educate people about this law, the more they’ll be able to take advantage of its benefits. And the more they take advantage of its benefits, the harder it will be for the law’s opponents to take those benefits away

Second, we need to make sure those benefits reach people by continuing to implement this law as effectively as possible. As you know, the law gives states lots of flexibility to tailor reforms to their own needs, starting with the Exchanges. As a former Governor, I believe this is one of the law’s strengths. And our department is working hard to make sure states have the resources and support they need so that even as they take different paths, they all end up in the same place: with a health insurance market that finally works for consumers.

Today, we are at a make or break moment. On the one hand, we have the most important health legislation since Medicare and Medicaid. On the other hand, we have an opposition that wants to get rid of the law – and then dismantle Medicare and Medicaid along with it.

In the last year, we’ve seen the House pass a proposal that would cut Medicaid spending in half over the next decade, slashing funds for seniors in nursing homes and the poorest moms and kids. And they’ve put forward an even more extreme approach to Medicare that would replace guaranteed benefits with a voucher seniors can use to negotiate with insurance companies. Their claim is that this will help bring down costs, but we’ve already tested this theory with the Medicare Advantage program. It doesn’t work. Instead, we have higher costs and no improvements in care.

We can’t turn back. Not now. And as the calls for repeal get louder in the months to come, we need to remember exactly what the status quo they want to return to looked like. In the decade before the health care law passed, our health insurance market was crumbling. Tens of millions of Americans were locked or priced out of the market. Premiums were rising three times faster than wages. Employers were either shifting more of that burden onto families or dropping coverage altogether. And at the same time, there was little improvement in our overall health, even as health care spending rose to more than a sixth of our economy by 2010. The system was bad for families. It was bad for business. And it was bad for our economy.

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