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HHS Secretary Says Affordable Care Act May Need Policy Changes

October 27, 2016 – U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said last night that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents progress in quality and affordability, but there are changes that may make it stronger for users.

“If you’re not in the marketplace now, and you’re not subsidized … on Nov. 1 I’d recommend you shop,” she said, referring to the recent 25 percent ACA premium increase during a talk at Georgetown. “Because the premiums have gone up, you might be eligible now. We estimate about 20 percent of the people, [who previously were unsubsidized] would be eligible now.”

Mathews Burwell says there may need to be policy changes made for those who remain without subsidies.

Her talk was the third in a six-part series, sponsored by the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics), designed to explore policy successes and challenges in the current administration and give advice to the next president.

E.J. Dionne, a professor in the McCourt School and columnist for The Washington Post, moderated “The Exit Interview” conversation in Gaston Hall, where the secretary participated in a Q&A with students following her talk.

The secretary added that she also thinks a public option may need to be in place in areas where there isn’t enough competition for those seeking health care providers.

“[This move could mean] those people [in low-competition areas] are able to make sure that they have a place and a plan and choices and options,” she said.

Mathews Burwell said the department’s diversity is one reason she wanted to be a part of the Health and Human Services. Immediately after her June 2014 appointment, her department faced a mass number of unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border, the global security issues surrounding the Ebola outbreak and continued fallout from the 2013 launch of the ACA.

“Why I went was to be a part of the transformation of the U.S. health care system,” she said. “The work that we’ve done [at HHS] and the impact that we’ve had there that I’ve contributed to is probably one of the things I’m most proud of.”

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and National Security Advisor Susan Rice have been among the top officials in the administration participating in the series that began Sept. 15.

The next Exit Interview, which takes place Nov. 16, features Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew (L‘83). The next conversation will feature Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.