Health Care Bill Says Sebelius Must Develop ‘Measurements of Gender;’ Sebelius Says She Has ‘No Idea’ What That Means

By Penny Starr | July 31, 2009 | 5:52pm EDT
(CNSNews.com) – Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she has “no idea” about a section of the Senate health-care reform bill that requires her to “develop standards for the measurement of gender”—as opposed to simply relying on “male” and “female”—for use in a new federal database that will collect information about all beneficiaries of government-run or government-supported health care programs.
 
The purpose of the database is to allow the government “to detect and monitor trends in health disparities” between different groups in the U.S. population.
 
The language mandating the database is on pages 410-414 of the bill. The specific requirement for the HHS secretary to develop “standards for the measurement of gender” says: “In collecting data described in paragraph (1), the Secretary or designee shall--(A) use Office of Management and Budget standards, at a minimum, for race and ethnicity measures; (B) develop standards for the measurement of gender, geographic location, socioeconomic status, primary language and disability measures.”
 
The bill was voted out of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on July 15.  Sebelius, as HHS secretary, is the key member of President Obama’s cabinet in promoting his health-care reform efforts.  If the bill is enacted, she will be the key federal official involved in executing it.  

When she was told the bill named her as the person tasked with developing standards for measuring gender, she said she was not familiar with that part of the legislation.

"Measurement of gender," she said.

"Yes, it’s in the health care plan," said CNSNews.com. "It says you are responsible for developing standards to measure gender.  In the health care plan."

“To measure gender,” Sebelius said. “I think what you may be referring to is that right now insurance companies can discriminate in terms of charging women more.”
 
"No, no," said CNSNews.com. "This is this thing that you’re developing standards--"

“I have no idea what you are talking about--measuring gender,” Sebelius said. “I'm sorry. I’m not trying to be elusive.” Hear Audio
 
Nicholas Papas, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told CNSNews.com to refer questions about the legislation to him, but he did not respond to repeated e-mails and phone calls directed to him on Friday afternoon.
 
A summary of the bill published by the Senate Health committee and posted on the committee’s Web site explains the purpose of the database but does not explain the language in the actual text of the bill that mandates that the HHS secretary “develop standards for the measurement of gender.” The summary says the database will collect “data by race, ethnicity, geographic location, socioeconomic status, health literacy, primary language and any other indicator of disparity,” but fails to mention anything at all about gender or sex--or males or females.
 
“Ensures that any ongoing or new federal health program achieve the collection and reporting of data by race, ethnicity, geographic location, socioeconomic status, health literacy, primary language and any other indicator of disparity,” says the committee’s summary. “The Secretary shall analyze data collected to detect and monitor trends in health disparities and disseminate this information to the relevant federal agencies. The Secretary shall also award grants to develop appropriate methods to detect and assess health disparities.”
 
The legislation also says the database will be made available to numerous federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control, the Office for Minority Health, and the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.
 
It also stipulates that the database will be secure and will protect individual privacy.

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