Kansas Gov. Sebelius 2nd Choice for HHS

Published May 1, 2009

President Barack Obama has nominated Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sebelius is Obama’s second nominee for the post, after his initial selection for HHS and White House health care czar, former U.S. senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), admitted to tax evasion and withdrew himself from consideration.

A former Kansas insurance commissioner, Sebelius has pressed for individual insurance mandates supported by taxpayer-funded programs. In 2006 and 2007 she proposed providing state-administered, taxpayer-funded “universal health insurance” for Kansas children. Both years the Republican-led state legislature refused to pass the proposal, which was similar in concept to a Hawaii program that lasted only seven months in 2008 because of a rush to drop private insurance in favor of the taxpayer-funded alternative.

Last year, Sebelius pushed for a 60 cent per pack increase in the state cigarette tax and a ban on smoking in public areas as part of a health care reform package, but the legislature again rebuffed the governor’s suggestions.

‘Advocate for Bigger Government’

“Sebelius has been a strong advocate for bigger and more expensive government during her two terms as governor of Kansas,” said Karl Peterjohn, Sedgwick County (Kansas) commissioner and executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers’ Network. “She fought a long and hard fight to raise property, income, and sales taxes during her first term, and she and her appointees have expanded regulations and regulatory control.”

In addition, said Peterjohn, “Sebelius fought hard for expanding the state’s role in providing health care. For example, she fought for higher excise taxes in 2008 for increasing state medical spending. Once again, the legislature rejected her tax hike proposals, but she has repeated these requests in 2009.

“The legacy that Gov. Sebelius leaves Kansas is one of a bigger, more expansive government and with a reputation for regulatory uncertainty,” Peterjohn concluded.

Big Spending Propensity Criticized

“President Obama has learned his lesson in one respect,” said John R. Graham, director of health care policy at the Pacific Research Institute. “After having to drop his first nominee for the office, Tom Daschle, because of his close lobbying ties to many Beltway interests, including at least one large health insurer, President Obama has chosen a nominee whose primary qualification is that she did not accept campaign donations from insurance companies when running for Kansas insurance commissioner.

“Including the SCHIP expansion, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the 2010 budget proposal, President Obama has committed to take hundreds of billions of health care dollars away from Americans over the next few years, so that he can give us health care that suits the government’s needs rather than the needs of patients,” Graham added. “So I guess it’s also nice that we finally have someone who’s in charge of the effort.

“Regrettably,” Graham continued, “Gov. Sebelius was a leader in the ‘beggar my neighbor’ policy of states competing against each other to draw down federal matching dollars to rope more children and low-income residents into government dependency for health care. Her appointment as the politician who writes the checks that motivate this race to the budgetary bottom confirms that this bad behavior will get only worse.”

Management Skills Praised

Some experts believe Sebelius will be a sound manager but won’t succeed at growing government further.

“I think Kathleen Sebelius is actually a fine choice for secretary of HHS,” said Greg Scandlen, director of Consumers for Health Care Choices at The Heartland Institute. “She is bright and personable and she has management experience as a governor. The largest part of running HHS is managing the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and her background as insurance commissioner should serve her very well in this capacity.

“However,” Scandlen said, “she will be of very little help in getting the Obama health care programs enacted. She does not have Tom Daschle’s experience or connections to Congress and she has done very little to change health care in Kansas.”

Devon Herrick, Ph.D., a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, agreed. “As a former insurance commissioner and governor of Kansas, Sebelius gained a reputation as a consumer advocate and for her bipartisan approach to politics. However, while governor she often ran up against a philosophical divide between her own party’s beliefs and those of the Republicans she was trying to work with.

“I don’t expect her new role will be any different,” Herrick concluded.

Joe Emanuel ([email protected]) writes from Georgia.