She’s Not In Kansas Anymore: Kathleen Sebelius as HHS Secretary

Amie Newman

Governor Kathleen Sebelius, two term Kansas governor, has been picked by President Obama to head up the Department of Health and Human Services. What does this mean for American's health care coverage, health care reform and reproductive rights?

The Caucus, NY Times’ political blog, reports that Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius has been picked by President Obama to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. The official announcement will be made on Monday at the White House. 

Of course, this is after Tom Daschle stepped down from the position before he even began arising from an admission of tax impropriety. In addition to his duties as Secretary of HHS, Daschle was also tapped to lead health care reform efforts for the White House – a role that Sebelius will not play. 

But as Julie Burkhardt wrote on this site last week, Sebelius has been called out by pro-choice and common ground movement members as well as health care reform advcoates as an excellent pick. Governor Sebelius has led a "reliably Republican state" for years – as a two term governor of Kansas as well as its insurance commissioner and she understands the politics of reaching across the aisle. 

Sebelius is a reproductive health and rights ally, to be sure, something anti-choice advocates, at the first whiff of Sebelius as a possible HHS secretary pick, immediately called out. But, Burkhardt writes, there is much for social conservatives to be encouraged by if they are able:

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What is true
and what the anti-choice advocates don’t like is that Governor Sebelius
is unequivocally pro-reproductive health care. But, that does not mean
abortion care alone. What they choose to ignore is that she is a strong
advocate for the health care of children, for prenatal care for women
and for preventive medicine. This, unfortunately, gets lost in the debate.  

It would behoove
social conservatives to take the Governor’s cue on this: that comprehensive
medical care, which also includes health care for pregnant women and
children, would go a long way to serve their so-called "pro-life"
agenda. However, the earth will most certainly freeze over before an
admission of any compatibility on the issue surfaces.

In his speech to Congress last week, President Obama singled out health care reform as a key issue for his administration in the coming months. Governor Sebelius will play an important role in this reform effort, of course. As The Caucus reports

Ms. Sebelius will be a key figure in the battle to extend health coverage to more than 40 million uninsured. In the spending plan Mr. Obama released last week, he proposed setting aside a $634 billion “reserve fund” over the next 10 years to pay for changes in the health care system.

Hopefully, Governor Sebelius’ confirmation will be smooth. As more Americans lose their jobs every day, and with those jobs their health care coverage, the health care system is like a bubble waiting to pop. Sebelius’ history of bipartisanship, as Burkhardt notes, is extremely valuable in overseeing such a vulnerable system at this point in history. 

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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