Sebelius accepts health secretary nomination

March 01, 2009|By Michael A. Fletcher and Ceci Connolly | Michael A. Fletcher and Ceci Connolly,Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius accepted President Barack Obama's request yesterday to become his health and human services secretary, stepping into a central role in the new administration's ambitious effort to overhaul the nation's health care system.

Sebelius' nomination comes just days before the White House is scheduled to convene a summit on health reform, an early step in the president's ambitious plan to vastly expand the reach of the nation's health care system. A formal announcement of her nomination will come tomorrow.

The summit, which is expected to be the first in a series of open meetings around the country, is intended to spotlight the challenges spawned by the nation's balkanized health care system - including soaring costs and gaping holes in coverage. It is also aimed at rallying public support for an overhaul certain to draw ideological and industry opposition. Similar to last week's "fiscal responsibility" summit, the health session will open with remarks by Obama and then divide into working groups run by administration officials.

In his budget proposal unveiled last week, Obama set aside $634 billion for a new health reform reserve fund that over the next decade would serve as a substantial down payment on the cost of moving the country closer to universal health coverage. About 46 million Americans lack health care coverage.

If confirmed by the Senate, Sebelius would fill a vital Cabinet position originally slated to go to former Sen. Thomas A. Daschle, who withdrew from consideration last month over his failure to pay $146,000 in back taxes and interest until he had already been nominated for the post.

Sebelius would inherit a sprawling department of 65,000 employees responsible for public health, food safety, scientific research and the administration of Medicare and Medicaid, which serve 90 million Americans.

The Kansas governor's health care experience stems primarily from her eight years as state insurance commissioner and her work as governor overseeing the Medicaid health program for the poor.

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