Sebelius Assesses Prospects for Medicare's Money Problems, Health Care Reform

GWEN IFILL: Secretary Sebelius, welcome to Washington and welcome to the NewsHour.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, Health and Human Services secretary: Thanks. Good to be with you.

GWEN IFILL: In your new position, you're in charge of Medicare, which we reported today is going to go bankrupt even sooner than it had been expected, by 2017. What do you plan to do about that? What do you and this administration plan to do about that?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Well, I think, Gwen, that fixing the health care system is part of fixing Medicare. This president is absolutely committed to making sure that seniors and disabled Americans who rely on Medicare for health benefits continue to receive those essential services. So he's going to do whatever it takes to make sure that the program continues on into the future.

Having said that, what we know is we need to lower costs not only of Medicare, but of all health programs for businesses and families and individuals and government agencies. And that's why health reform is so important to work with Congress and get it passed this year.

GWEN IFILL: Let me get something clear. Is it — you say you need Congress to step up and work with you. Is this plan, if we should ever see a health care plan, going to come from Congress or from you, from the administration?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Well, it's a combination of both. The president has put forward some principles, that all Americans should have affordable, available coverage, that we need to make sure people can choose their doctors and their health plans, that we build on the current system and not start all over again, that we lower costs overall.

He is committed to helping families of four save at least $2,500 a family. And that's part of the plan going forward, and that we begin to transform the system from a sickness system to a wellness system, that we put money for prevention and wellness.

He put those proposals forward, put about $600 billion-plus in his budget proposals for 2010 as a down payment. And now Congress is engaged in a very bipartisan fashion in both the House and the Senate working around those principles to fashion some legislative specifics.

But I think it's a combined activity of both Congress being empowered and engaged and the president moving this initiative forward with the American people.