Weekly Pulse: DeParle, Sebelius to Head Health Reform


The Obama administration unveiled two
major nominations on Monday: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for
Secretary of Health and Human Services and Nancy-Ann DeParle for health czar.
The czar is responsible for shepherding healthcare reform legislation
through Congress and the Secretary will be responsible for implementing
the plan.

Correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, but we’d like to remind everyone that In These Times floated Sebelius’ name for HHS in September of 2008; Ramon Castellblanch wrote:

Three major obstacles
face the next secretary. One, tens of millions of Americans lack health
insurance. Two, any attempt to deal with this crisis will result in the
private insurance industry-and its lobbyists-swooping in to turn policy
changes into a windfall for itself. And three, for eight years, the
department has been crippled by low morale and staff departures caused
by Bush administration mismanagement. The next secretary must have the
ability to help undo this damage.

Castellblanch argued at the time that
Sebelius was the right person for the job because of her executive
experience as governor, her knowledge of the insurance industry, and
her strong progressive values.

Julie Burkhart of RH Reality Check writes
of Sebelius’ record as governor, "[Gov. Sebelius] has been a tireless
advocate for expanded health care for pregnant women, for comprehensive
and medically accurate sexual education and for more accommodating
adoption statutes."

Naturally, the right wing hates the
Sebelius nomination because of the governor’s strong pro-choice record,
but there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it.

Anti-abortion groups are insinuating that
Sebelius is a close ally of Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas physician who
performs late-term abortions. Operation Rescue has tried unsuccessfully
to shut down his clinic for years, making Dr. Tiller the White Whale of
the Kansas anti-abortion movement. The alleged smoking gun is the revelation that Sebelius invited Tiller to the governor’s mansion for dinner. As Ezra Klein points out in the American Prospect, Tiller and his staff did dine with Sebelius, but only because they placed the winning bid at fundraising auction.

Burkhart reports in RH Reality that
the Speaker of the Kansas House, Mike O’Neal, introduced two
anti-choice bills on Tuesday in an attempt to embarrass the governor on
abortion. Presumably, he hopes to force Sebelius to veto the bills
before her confirmation hearing.

Senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts of Kansas, both conservative Republicans, have pledged to support Sebelius. Brownback says abortion is murder.
So, it might seem odd that he’s supporting the ardently pro-choice
Sebelius. Once again, home state boosterism triumphs over the "rights
of the unborn." Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly concludes that Sebelius’ confirmation is all but assured:
If Operation Rescue can’t even pick up Sam Brownback, the religious
right doesn’t have the political muscle to sustain a serious senate
fight.

The liberal group Catholics United is also supporting Sebelius, Sarah Hepola reports in Salon.

As governor, Sebelius proposed that the state provide health insurance for every uninsured child in Kansas from birth to age five. In 2008, Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones praised Gov. Sebelius for vetoing a voter-disenfranchising ID law and nixing unhealthy coal-fired power plants.

Sebelius’s record as a reform-minded
insurance commissioner may provide a preview of coming attractions at
HHS. Sebelius served as commissioner from 1995 to 2002. As a candidate,
she signalled her independence by refusing campaign contributions from the insurance industry. As insurance commissioner,
Sebelius backed a number of pro-consumer reforms for health insurance
including a patient’s bill of rights, mandated maternity coverage, and
enhanced privacy protections. Sebelius also blocked a proposed merger
of Kansas’ non-profit health insurance company, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, by a for-profit company because the deal would have increased insurance premiums and forced hospitals to turn away patients who couldn’t pay. The insurance companies fought Sebelius all the way to the Supreme Court and lost.

Obama’s pick for health czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle,
is a health policy veteran from the Clinton administration. Matt Cooper
of Talking Points Memo notes that she is married to New York Times
reporter Jason DeParle.

Nancy-Ann DeParle currently works for a
private venture capital firm and serves on the boards of various
medical device companies. There was speculation that the Obama
administration might scrap the health czar post alltoghether after
former Sen. Tom Daschle was forced to abandon his confirmation bid when
his income tax irregularities came to light. Ezra Klein writes in the Prospect that DeParle seems like an odd choice given the health czar’s portfolio as the president’s top liaison to Congress on health care reform:

The reason it’s hard
to evaluate DeParle is because it’s not clear what she-or the Office of
Health Reform-is meant to be doing. The OHR, remember, was built for
Daschle: He wanted space in the West Wing where he could run the policy
and politics of the health reform process. But few expect DeParle to
assume a similar role. The OMB and the NEC have taken a central role in
policy design and it’s hard to imagine the Office of Health Reform
muscling control of the process away from them. Daschle was a political
heavyweight whose particular basket of congressional-liaison
qualifications is not reproduced in DeParle.

DeParle must, of course, resign from the
boards of medical device companies before she takes the job. According
to the Obama administration, DeParle’s recent affiliations present no conflict of interest-time will tell whether that assertion bears up under scrutiny.

On the whole, Sebelius and DeParle are two
strong picks to advance Barack Obama’s health care reform agenda. If
confirmed, these two nominees will bring energy and experience to the
fight.

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