This past week Kathleen Sebelius stepped down as head of Health and Human Services. Sebelius’ abrupt departure is perhaps no surprise considering the tumultuous rollout of Healthcare.gov and the vocal opposition to Obamacare from the Right.
Although, some have speculated that Sebelius was pushed out, Politico reports that, “A White House official said Sebelius told Obama in March that she planned to resign. She felt that the Affordable Care Act trajectory was back on track, and believed ‘that once open enrollment ended it would be the right time to transition the Department to new leadership.’” Philly.com reports that on Meet the Press, “Sebelius said she was not pressured to resign; rather, she established her own timeline for departing the job she has held for about five years.”
Republicans lost no time in lambasting Sebelius’ tenure. The New York Times notes, “Republicans seized on Ms. Sebelius’s departure to heap even more criticism on the law she helped pass and carry out. 'No matter who is in charge of H.H.S., Obamacare will continue to be a disaster,' said Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said her resignation was 'cold comfort to the millions of Americans who were deceived about what it would mean for them and their families” under the health care law.'”
As one of the most public faces of healthcare reform, Sebelius has been a convenient scapegoat for a controversial law. The reality is that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act was an effort whose failures and successes belong to more than just Kathleen Sebelius: “The Obamacare rollout was a complex and unprecedented process that involved a huge team of people, including coders, consultants and other technical professionals who clearly failed to build a robust system and didn’t anticipate the kind of load it would experience. These individuals faded into the background in the howls, especially from Republicans, for Sebelius’ job” (Source).
Sebelius had been rumored to be considering a senate run, but has apparently shot down those claims. At this time, she appears to want to fade from the spotlight after a harrowing five-year term as member of President Obama’s cabinet. Only time will tell what turn Sebelius’ political career will take next.
Now that Sebelius is out, President Obama has tapped current Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, to replace her. Burwell has previously enjoyed bipartisan support in her role in the budget office, and was even recently praised for her nomination by Republican senator John McCain. However, now that she’s moving into a new role as Director of Health and Human Services Burwell should expect a less than warm welcome from many members of the Right.
Reuters reports that, “Burwell, who would succeed outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as the public face of Obamacare, needs to be confirmed by the Senate before she can start the job. She sailed through the Senate last year for her current job as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with a 96-0 confirmation vote. But Republicans say things may not be so easy this time.
‘There is no doubt she was a good choice for OMB. That does not necessarily make her a good choice for HHS,’ Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina told ‘Fox News Sunday.’”
Clearly, Burwell’s nomination will be heavily politicized and will not only be a referendum on her qualifications, but also a referendum on the Affordable Care Act more generally. Ultimately, we can expect much more hoopla surrounding the continued implementation of health care reform and another powerful woman at the helm.