HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Makes Surprise Visit to President Shalala’s Class

Secretary Sebelius answered students' questions during her visit to President Shalala's class.

Coral Gables (April 02, 2013) — University of Miami student Toni Christi walked into class on Monday unaware that women in the vast majority of states pay substantially more than men for the same health insurance. During class, Christi would also learn that the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010, will outlaw gender discrimination by insurance companies. But it wasn’t the classroom instructor, UM President Donna Shalala, who taught the lesson.

During an appearance as a surprise guest lecturer in Shalala’s course on the U.S. Health Care Crisis: The Politics of Health Care Reform, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told about 300 students that Obamacare will not only put an end to gender rating but also outlaw the practice of insurance companies denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

“I had absolutely no idea that Sebelius was going to be here,” said Christi, an English major from Chicago. “I follow important issues closely, and this was an incredible and enlightening experience.”

Sitting in a chair on the Storer Auditorium stage, Sebelius answered a range of questions posed by Shalala, explaining everything from the decisions governors will have to make in implementing the Affordable Care Act—such as whether or not to expand Medicaid—to the benefits of marketplaces, which will give consumers an entirely new way to find health insurance that fits their needs and budgets.

The former governor of Kansas also answered questions from students. One student asked if it is true that interest rates on student loans will be raised to finance the bill. Not true, responded the secretary, who explained that the bill will be financed by insurance companies paying a tax on some of the policies they sell as well as medical device and drug companies paying additional costs.

Q&A: A student in Shalala's class on the U.S. Health Care Crisis: The Politics of Health Care Reform asks Sebelius a question.

“The health bill is actually financed from within features of the bill all of which relate to the health market,” Sebelius said. “So even though, at the end of the day, up to 40 million additional Americans will have health insurance, and we’ll be able to pay doctors a little bit more for taking care of folks, it doesn’t add a dime to the deficit.”

Sebelius touted the preventive care measures built into the Affordable Care Act. “Every insurance policy now will have to offer preventive care with no co-pays,” she said, thus providing services such as contraception, vaccination for kids, mammograms, and colon cancer screenings—“a whole range of services to try and eliminate financial barriers that stop people from getting checked out in the first place.”

She said that a stream of money called the Prevention Fund has been set up as part of the funding of the bill. The fund will allow communities to implement and operate projects that address smoking cessation and obesity, two of the primary drivers of chronic diseases.

Sebelius also identified what she called “the next battle we will have around the country”—allowing nurses to practice to the full extent of their training.

“There are trained nurse practitioners who could be delivering primary care, operating clinics, and seeing patients on a regular basis,” Sebelius said. “That would put a lot more primary care providers on the ground.”

She told students that the adoption of electronic medical records, the move to place health care decisions back into the hands of health care providers, and an approach in which health care teams take responsibility for quality outcomes make it “one of the most exciting times to be involved in medicine.”

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Secretaries of Health: Secretary Sebelius answers students' questions while President Shalala, who was secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration, listens in.

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