HHS Secretary Says Ebola 'Difficult' to Catch, Urges Doctors to Help Obamacare Signups

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told physicians the American people must be reminded that Ebola is a “difficult disease to catch” and the best way to prevent the spread of the virus in America is to take action abroad.

She also asked physicians to help enroll Americans in Obamacare.

“We need each of you to educate yourselves on the CDC materials and recommendations so that you can identify potential cases. We can also use your help to work with your healthcare facilities to conduct one or more of what we’re calling Ebola ‘Grand Rounds’ for doctors, nurses, as well as first responders, lab workers, and waste disposal personnel,” said Burwell at the American Academy of Family Physicians conference on Thursday.

“As physicians you know that this is actually a difficult disease to catch and it is important for Americans to know this as well. You might have heard the president himself talk about how he has met and hugged some of the doctors and nurses who’ve treated Ebola patients,” she added.

Burwell said the U.S. has the public health infrastructure to stop the spread of Ebola.

“We’re taking a ‘whole of government’ approach to responding at home and abroad,” Burwell said. “A central part of our preparedness here at home is ensuring that all hospitals are in a position to manage the early recognition and isolation of a patient and engage public health authorities appropriately for early treatment of a patient.”

Some lawmakers have called for a travel ban on flights to and from West African nations. The Obama administration does not support such a ban at this time.

Burwell said teams from HHS, CDC, the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, personnel from USAID and the U.S. military are on the ground abroad working with local authorities.

Burwell told the audience HHS is asking hospitals to have a “rigorous preparedness plan” for Ebola.

“We’ve ramped up outreach to hospitals and front line healthcare workers with two messages: ‘Think Ebola’ and ‘Care Carefully.’ That means screening and identifying potential cases by asking a travel history, isolating potential cases, using appropriate personal protective equipment, and activating the hospital preparedness plan,” she said.

Burwell also announced a major investment of $840 million in the “Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative,” which she said would provide grants to organizations working directly with medical practices as they rethink, redesign and reimagine their systems.

“This investment is designed to support more than 150,000 clinicians in their work on transforming practices for the better,” she said. “It is designed to spend taxpayer dollars more wisely.”

Since Medicare and Medicaid are the two largest health insurance plans in the world, covering approximately one in three Americans, HHS is identifying grant and rulemaking opportunities. Burwell said the agency is finding ways to use grants and rules “appropriately to improve the quality of care that beneficiaries receive while spending dollars more wisely.”

Burwell called on physicians to encourage Americans to enroll in Obamacare ahead of the open enrollment period that begins on Nov. 15 and ends Feb. 15.

“Your patients, your neighbors, and your family members look to you as people they can trust. As family physicians, you know how hard it is for your patients when they don't have insurance, or have coverage that's unaffordable or runs out just when they need it the most,” she said.

“I know you've all done the best you could in a system where, for far too long, too many of the people you served were either uninsured or underinsured.”

Burwell called the upcoming enrollment the “first full round” since there are people who signed up last time who need to re-enroll along with millions of Americans HHS wants to enroll for the first time.

“So this year, we're going to need your help and your support just as much as we did last year – if not more,” she said.

Some physicians attending the conference told PJ Media they have noticed many patients who had private health insurance plans in the past are now covered under Obamacare or Medicaid, which was expanded in many states as part of the healthcare reform law.

A doctor from a private practice said he has patients whose private plans were canceled after Obamacare went into effect.

“A lot of patients are still angry because they lost their insurance and they keep blaming the government for that. They were dropped by their previous insurer and now they have to pay, I guess, a higher premium being under Obamacare,” said a physician from CarePoint Health in New Jersey, a private practice.

A family practitioner from a community health center in Maryland said a lot of her patients are happier with the price of their government-backed plan as opposed to their previous private plans.

“We take people who are uninsured, people who have private insurance, people who have federal insurance, we go all three aspects. So we have seen some people who came in initially with a private and said, ‘well, I actually did better going with a federal plan because now I don’t have to spend as much money’ so it helped them out a lot more to go with a federal package,” she said.