WASHINGTON (AP) — Here's what some Republicans want to know: If Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius thinks the new health insurance marketplace is going to be so great, why doesn't she get her own coverage from it?
The answer is straightforward enough: She can't.
Republicans would not take "I'm not eligible" or "It's illegal" for an answer Wednesday when they questioned Sebelius at a House hearing about why she won't drop her existing coverage and sign up for insurance under the new markets, called exchanges.
A look at the back and forth, with underlying facts:
REP. CORY GARDNER, R-Colo.: "You're in charge of this law, correct? Why aren't you in the exchange?"
SEBELIUS: "Because I'm part of the federal employee health benefit plan. ... I'm not eligible for the exchange."
GARDNER: "You can decide to drop your coverage of your employer. You have the choice to decide not to choose ..."
SEBELIUS: "Not true, sir."
GARDNER: "I would encourage you to be just like the American people and enter the exchange and agree to find a way ..."
SEBELIUS: "It's illegal."
GOP Rep. Billy Long of Missouri also tried.
LONG: "You're architect of the whole program and you won't go into it with the rest of the American public."
SEBELIUS: "I did not say that, sir. I think it's illegal for me to."
LONG: "If you can, will you?"
SEBELIUS: "I will take a look at it."
Sebelius and other administration officials, like the great majority of insured Americans, get coverage through their workplace, not the individual marketplace that is to be served by the health insurance exchanges. As long as existing employer coverage is deemed affordable, the law doesn't allow employees to drop it and sign up in the exchanges.
It's that simple.
Gardner told the hearing his family chose to have a private policy in Colorado "so we could be in the same boat as every one of my constituents."
But individual private policies are not the norm. Employer-based group coverage is. In that sense, Sebelius is already "just like the American people," as Gardner implored her to become.
A change in the law steers members of Congress and some of their staff into the exchanges while retaining employer contributions that existed in their traditional coverage. But the law makes no such change for administration employees who will keep getting coverage the usual way and cannot participate in the exchanges.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ An occasional look at claims by public figures that take shortcuts with the facts or don't tell the full story