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Burwell Supports Public Option, Other Fixes to Health Law

By Erin Mershon, CQ Roll Call

September 9, 2016 -- Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell called in an op-ed Friday for Congress to consider a public option as a way to lower premiums on the exchanges.

Burwell joins Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other progressives who have increasingly promoted the policy during this year's campaign. President Barack Obama also renewed his call for the option this summer, as Burwell noted. In her op-ed, which was first published by CNN, the secretary also criticized conservatives for their efforts to derail the health care law.

"Unfortunately, opponents of the law have spent years chipping away at funding for everything from CO-OPs to programs that help stabilize premiums to outreach efforts that help uninsured Americans find coverage," she wrote. "These actions make coverage less available and less affordable for consumers."

Burwell's focus on affordability comes as the health care law faces serious challenges. Insurance premiums in many states are rising by double digits in some states, and several major insurers, including UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Aetna Inc., have dramatically scaled back their participation in the marketplaces.

The secretary outlined several other changes Congress could make, including increasing the premium subsidies available under the law or working to decrease prescription drug costs. She said states and insurers could also help improve affordability.

Burwell acknowledged that 2017 will be a "transition year" for the exchanges, but pointed out that the health care law has successfully improved access and reduced the uninsured rate in the United States to an historic low. She also said the country was seeing large premium increases because insurers priced their products too low at the outset.

Burwell also pointed out that subsidies will protect many Americans from bearing the brunt of the premium increases, and said that the agency is "using all the tools at our disposal" to try to improve affordability and access.

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