The New York Times and others are reporting that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius will be President Obama’s choice for HHS secretary. Obama’s first choice for secretary of HHS, former Sen. Tom Daschle, was an expert on health care reform; indeed, he had written a book on the topic, which laid out specific ideas, and provided fodder for opponents of Obama’s reform plans. Sebelius represents a very different approach. While she is a former state insurance commissioner and dealt with health programs as governor, she is associated with few specific proposals.
A preliminary look at her record suggests that she is a member of what my colleague Michael Cannon calls the Church of Universal Coverage, and has regularly pushed for the expansion of government programs such as Medicaid and SCHIP. She sought to have Kansas taxpayers cover all children up to the age of five, but her proposal was rejected by the legislature. She also has been sympathetic to the ideas of both an employer mandate (she imposed a mandate for companies receiving state contracts) and an individual mandate. As insurance commissioner she had a reputation for supporting increased regulation. Nothing surprising in this record at all.
An interesting question will be whether Sebelius will also inherit Daschle’s role as White House “health czar,” or whether that position will go to Daschle’s coauthor, Jeanne Lambrew, currently the “deputy czar.” If Sebelius doesn’t get the second post, expect health care reform to be driven out of the White House, while Sebelius, generally given high marks for bipartisanship, tries to corral moderate Republican votes.