Sunday, March 1

Sebelius a Good Second Choice

As much as I personally wanted Gov. Howard Dean to be appointed to the Secretary of health and Human Services post, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is a solid choice for two very good reasons. President Obama needs a nominee that won't embarass him by having some dark cloud hanging over his/her head and by all accounts Gov. Sebelius is as baggage free as they come. Secondly, she is well-liked by President Obama and has valuable experience to push his important health care agenda.

She is best known to the party faithful for the Democratic response to former President George W. Bush's last State of the Union address--which went marginally better than Gov. Bobby Jindal's and likely caused her name to fall off the list for VP candidates--nonetheless, she has been a popular Democratic governor in a state that Republican-dominated. She also brings a breadth of experience as she served as Kansas' Insurance Commissioner before she ran for Governor.

In that capacity, according to CQ Politics:

Sebelius walked the line between government regulation and a free market. “Competitive markets and solvent businesses and having people feel good about doing business in the state is not only good for industry, but for consumers, since it leads to better rates and services.”

And she also pushed to eliminate duplicate or cumbersome regulations. “What we’re trying to pull off is a balancing act between being effective protectors for the consumers of this country and not having lots of regulations and laws in place that impede the market,” she said in 2001.

In 2005, she won an $85 million increase in Medicaid dollars for the state, boosting doctors’ pay for the first time in a decade. “The payments are still low, but it certainly helped shore up the safety net system,” said Barnett.

She has called for universal health care, a major theme for Democrats during the 2008 presidential campaign. “We must commit ourselves to universal coverage, improved quality of care, and increased affordability,” she said in her Jan. 10, 2007 state of the state address. It was not enacted.

There is praise in Kansas for her bipartisan approach, a theme Obama has emphasized.

“When you’re a Democrat in Kansas, you get nothing done if you’re not bipartisan—it’s the nature of the beast,” said Neufeld.

Any Obama health overhaul plan likely will demand sacrifices from the health insurance industry, which Sebelius knows well from her time as state insurance commissioner from 1994 to 2002.

She already has fought one major battle with the health insurance industry, at the state level, conducted during her gubernatorial election campaign. In 2001, Indiana-based health insurer Anthem announced it would buy Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas. Unlike private, for-profit health insurers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas is owned by its state policy holders.

Though Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas’ members approved the sale to Anthem, Sebelius used her power as insurance commissioner to block the move, taking the fight all the way to the state supreme court, where she eventually prevailed.

As recently as last Tuesday, Sebelius signed into law a bill that reduced the Kansas budget by about $300 million to address a $6.4 billion deficit, but the legislation in large part avoided reductions in spending for health care programs, such as Medicaid. With the need for health care coverage for all increasing, Sebelius will be a position to push Obama's agenda with credibility.

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