WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday during a House hearing on Obamacare's troubled rollout. While she faced some tough questions, not among them was one particularly persistent inquiry as to why Sebelius herself wouldn't enroll in a health insurance exchange.
The answer is pretty simple: "Because I'm part of Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan," Sebelius said. In other words, she already has affordable health insurance, provided to her by her employer, the federal government. The health insurance exchanges were not created for people in Sebelius' situation. They were created for the millions of Americans who did not previously have access to quality, affordable health insurance through their employers or through Medicare or Medicaid.
But as Josh Barro points out at Business Insider, however, Sebelius gave another reason on Wednesday for not enrolling in the exchanges. After being pressed by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Sebelius told him she believed it would be illegal for her to enter an exchange. According to the law's provisions for those who already have employer health insurance, it wouldn't be.
Healthcare.gov explains that those who receive coverage through their employers can opt to seek health insurance coverage through the exchanges instead. It wouldn't make sense for Sebelius: She would likely not be eligible for subsidies, and switching to the exchanges would lead to her losing her employer contribution toward her premiums. But others who are offered worse or less subsidized coverage through their employers could potentially find better options on the exchange.
Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) later tried to corner Sebelius on the same issue.
"If it is possible for you to go into the exchange like all these millions of Americans that are going into the exchanges, will you commit to forgo your government insurance plan that you're on now and join us in the pool?" Long asked, pointing out that congresspeople and their staffs are required to join the exchanges (thanks to an amendment to the law added by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) ahead of its passage).
Sebelius responded by claiming that "the way the law is written" would prohibit her from doing so. But Long pushed a hypothetical.
"If you're wrong, will you go into the exchanges? If you can, will you?" Long continued.
"I'll take a look at it," Sebelius finally conceded.