A day after President Barack Obama invited Republicans in Congress to a bipartisan health care summit, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said no one should get the wrong impression.
"A lot of people ask if this is starting over (on a health overhaul), the answer is absolutely not," she said Monday in a talk at the AcademyHealth policy conference in Washington.
Instead, she said the Feb. 25 televised event is to "get Republicans to re-engage in the process. It is not acceptable that half the legislative body pushed away from the table months ago and said 'we do not want to participate.'"
In January, two days after Republican Scott Brown changed the dynamics of the debate by winning a special Senate election in Massachusetts and ending Democrats filibuster-proof majority, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that the health bill that passed the House in November was "dead" but "maybe not quite as dead as I want it."
Boehner said Republicans in the House were not interested in working with Democrats to modify the existing bill, which he called a "monstrosity" — although he said Republicans were ready to work with the White House and congressional Democrats to craft a bill from scratch.
Sebelius said she hopes Republicans will put forward "a real plan, not just criticisms."
She said any health overhaul that prohibits insurers from charging higher rates or denying coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions also must have an individual insurance mandate. Republicans have staunchly opposed the mandate as an infringement on individual rights.
"It is disingenuous to say you are for insurance reforms, but not support the notion that everyone has to come into the marketplace," Sebelius said.
While polls that show Americans' waning support for the health overhaul bills, Sebelius insists there is "overwhelming support" for the provisions in the bills.
The problem, Sebelius said, is the process Congress took to craft the legislation. "When people look up close at the personal activities of Congress they are confused and disgusted with the whole process and too afraid that whatever is going on can't possibly be good for them or their families."