Sebelius, who previously served as Kansas governor, led the agency for five years during the introduction, execution and troubled roll-out of the nationwide health insurance plan. During her tenure 7.5 million people signed up for health insurance — exceeding the administration’s expectations — but that isn’t all she’s done.
“She has been here through the long fight,” President Obama said Friday during his announcement of Sebelius’ resignation. Though Sebelius was the one charged with crafting the program that came to bear the president’s name — Obamacare — she is walking away with class and dignity despite what some of her colleagues have to say.
“Six months ago, I was the first to call on [Sebelius] to resign for gross incompetence resulting in the failures of the exchange websites,” U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said. “This decision by Secretary Sebelius to resign is prudent, but overdue.”
And from another Kansas colleague in Washington D.C.:
“Even though Secretary Sebelius will be gone, every promise the president made about Obamacare — if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor; health care costs will be lowered; and if you like your health plan you can keep it — will remain broken,” U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said. “Changing the secretary won’t change the problem — a disaster is still a disaster.”
Sebelius, though, expressed pride in the work she has done.
“I’ve had an additional amazing opportunity — no one has ever had this before — I got to be a leader of HHS during these most historic times,” Sebelius said in her resignation announcement. “We are on the front lines of a long, overdue national change — fixing a broken health system. Now, this is the most meaningful work I’ve ever been a part of. In fact, it’s been the cause of my life. And I knew it wouldn’t be easy. There’s a reason that no earlier president was successful in passing health reform, despite decades of attempts.”
“She has fought to improve children’s health, from birth to kindergarten; expanded mental health care; reduced racial and ethnic disparities; brought us closer to the first AIDS-free generation. She’s been a tireless advocate for women’s health … Health care costs under Kathleen’s leadership are growing at their slowest rate in 50 years,” Obama said.
The president also credited Sebelius for moving health records from “dog-eared paper to high-tech systems” as well as for partnering “with the Department of Justice to aggressively pursue health care fraud and return billions of dollars — record sums — to the Medicare Trust Fund.”
Sebelius’ successor is expected to be Sylvia Mathews Burwell, if approved by Congress, and she still will have a big job ahead of her. Despite some fumbles along the way, Sebelius didn’t give up. She found a way to fix the problems she encountered. In many ways, those are the skills that make anyone a good leader, including Sebelius.
— Jeanny Sharp,
editor and publisher