Turning the Page at HHS

I wrote earlier in admiration of President Obama’s choice of Tom Daschle as his designee to fill the top job at HHS. I make no bones of the fact that I was disappointed by the circumstances that resulted in his withdrawal.

And, I admit to some conflicted feelings. On one hand there was frustration at the atmosphere that prevents a talented individual from serving in a role for which he’s well suited. On the other, more than a little annoyance at the carelessness/stupidity of those same talented individuals who allow themselves to get entangled in such messes.

I think that there’s a valuable reminder here for all of us of the importance of adherence to the highest ethical standards. Paul gave some pretty good advice to Titus- “…show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”

Exit Tom Daschle. Enter Kathleen Sebelius.

It has felt as if Governor Sebelius was an inevitable appointment for at least the last couple of weeks. By all accounts she’s been an effective governor, managing to work effectively across the political spectrum while leading a predominately Republican state. Those political skills will be tried sorely as she is tasked to lead the President’s efforts to bring some degree of reform to our dysfunctional healthcare system.

The opportunity is there for her to accomplish a lot. As I read through the ARRA, I’m struck by how much responsibility is delegated to the HHS Secretary. Congress appropriated the money. When it involves healthcare- including HIT- the Secretary is going to have enormous influence over how it gets spent.

Governor Sebelius has an interesting back story. Her dad is John Gilligan, who was governor of Ohio when I was in high school. The two of them are the first father-daughter governor pair in US history.

So, what are her views on healthcare? Heck if I know.

Try as I might, I haven’t been able to find much of a paper trail, or other evidence that she’s spent time thinking deep thoughts on the subject. Some position information on her gubernatorial website promotes the expansion of coverage to children up to the age of five. Admirable, but scarcely revolutionary.

The key healthcare qualification that I’ve seen cited is that she served as the Insurance Commissioner in Kansas from 1995 to 2003. I’m not sure how secure that makes me feel.

An Insurance Commissioner is responsible for supervising the activity of insurers in a State, but how much of that ends up being an adversarial role and how much is a collegial one? I note that a key group quoted as praising Sebelius’ appointment is AHIP, the health insurance trade group.

I generally think of the payors as being more part of the problem than part of the solution. Rightly or wrongly, we’re often known by the company we keep.

All that said, I’m fully prepared to give Secretary Sebelius the benefit of the doubt.

I’d love to hear from those with some direct contact and interaction with the apparent nominee. Does anyone have insights they’d like to share?

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