- Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services
- Charged with implementing the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act in 2010
- Has expressed her support for a “single payer” healthcare system
- Strong supporter of Planned Parenthood and abortion rights
- Former governor of Kansas
Kathleen Sebelius was born on May 15, 1948, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the daughter of John Joyce Gilligan, a Democrat who served as a U.S. congressman from 1965-67 and as governor of Ohio from 1971-75.
Holding a bachelor’s degree in political science from Trinity College and an MPA from the University of Kansas, Sebelius was the executive director (and leading lobbyist) of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association from 1977–86; a member of the Kansas House of Representatives from 1987-94; Kansas insurance commissioner from 1995-2003; and Kansas governor from 2003-09.
During her tenure as governor, Sebelius spent years fighting against transparency motions related to Republican state attorney general Phillip Kline’s effort to determine whether the Planned Parenthood Federation of America had committed felonies by: (a) falsifying the records of patients who underwent illegal late-term abortions in Kansas, and (b) failing to report 164 cases of child rape — i.e., where girls younger than fourteen underwent abortions. Though two Kansas district judges found probable cause of criminality in Planned Parenthood’s records, Sebelius, a committed opponent of any legislative “restrictions” on women’s abortion rights, launched an aggressive campaign designed to suppress that evidence and smear the attorney general.1
Sebelius held her post as Kansas governor until President Barack Obama appointed her as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in March 2009. That same month, it was learned that Sebelius owed more than $7,800 in back taxes; that she was unable to provide receipts for some charitable donations and business expenses she had claimed; and that she had mistakenly taken a mortgage interest deduction on a home that she had already sold. Notwithstanding these revelations, the Senate confirmed Sebelius as HHS secretary on April 28, 2009.
Having previously declared hersef to be “all for a single-payer [healthcare] system eventually,” Sebelius soon became a leading defender of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as “Obamacare,” which was signed into law on March 23, 2010. Much of the implementation of that law was delegated to Sebelius’s office.
When Obamacare went into effect, a provision in the law stated that all existing insurance plans would be “grandfathered,” meaning that consumers could keep those policies if they wanted to, even if the policies did not meet certain requirements of the new healthcare law. But three months later, in July 2010, Sebelius’s HHS wrote regulations which narrowed the foregoing provision by saying that if any part of a policy—e.g., the deductible, co-pay, or benefits—was significantly changed after March 2010, the policy would not be grandfathered. Notably, the regulations acknowledged that as a result of this addendum, millions of Americans in the individual insurance market were likely to lose their existing coverage.
In June 2013, Sebelius was called before the House Education and Workplace Committee to answer questions about whether she had solicited funds from private organizations to help implement Obamacare. She admitted to having contacted the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (which is devoted exclusively to public health) and H&R Block (which expected to play a large role in helping people apply for tax credits that could be used to buy health insurance under Obamacare). Her reason for calling these organizations was to solicit money for Enroll America—an Obama-allied program tasked with enrolling low-income Americans in Obamacare’s new health-insurance exchanges.
Sebelius also stated that she had called three companies regulated by her department—Johnson & Johnson (a drug manufacturer), Ascension Health (a large Roman Catholic healthcare system), and Kaiser Permanente (a health insurer)—to generally solicit their support for Obamacare but not to explicitly ask for money.
Justifying her actions, Sebelius said: “It was always recognized from the day the president signed the [Obamacare] bill that there would never be enough government funding and that there would not be enough opportunity if this is only a government-run program.” But Republican Senator Lamar Alexander asserted: “If [Sebelius] is raising money from private entities and coordinating with those entities to do something that Congress has refused to do, the Constitution doesn’t allow that and federal law makes it a criminal violation.”
Also in June 2013, the Associated Press reported that Sebelius and other HHS officials were using secret email accounts to communicate with one another about government business. This was a violation of U.S. law, which requires federal agencies to retain all of their emails in the event that they are someday needed for lawsuits or congressional investigations. The Obama administration claimed that Sebelius and her colleagues had used the secret accounts merely to avoid being swamped with unwanted emails.
In June 2013 as well, the Washington Examiner filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for emails pertaining to Sebelius’s fundraising efforts on behalf of Enroll America.
In a July 2013 speech to the annual conference of the NAACP, Sebelius touted Obamacare as a “powerful” vehicle for “reducing health disparities” among Americans, and compared opponents of the Act to southern segregationists who had opposed civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s:
“The same arguments against change, the same fear and misinformation that opponents used then are the same ones opponents are spreading now. ‘This won’t work,’ ‘slow down,’ ‘let’s wait,’ they say. But history shows that upholding our founding principles demands continuous work … You showed it in the fight against lynching and the fight for desegregation. You showed it by ensuring inalienable rights are secured in the courtroom and at the ballot box….”
In August 2013, Sebelius told a gathering of Latinos in Philadelphia that because the Obamacare bill “is crafted in such a way that those who are undocumented will not have access to the tax credits or shopping in the [health insurance] marketplace,” Congress should give high priority to passing “comprehensive immigration reform.”
The “open enrollment” period for Obamacare began on October 1, 2013, but in disastrous fashion. The HealthCare.gov website which people were required to use in order to select a healthcare plan and enroll, scarcely functioned at all, though more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds had been spent to create it. On October 23, 2013, a group of 33 House Republicans sent a letter to President Obama calling for him to demand that Sebelius resign. “The scope of the problem is so great,” they wrote, “that, were this a private company or military command, the CEO or general would have been fired. We are, therefore, calling on you to hold Secretary Sebelius accountable for the fiasco that is HealthCare.gov and ask for her resignation.”
The following day, reporters asked Sebelius whether she in fact intended to resign. The HHS secretary replied: “The majority of people calling for me to resign I would say are people who I don’t work for and who do not want this program to work in the first place. I have had frequent conversations with the president and I have committed to him that my role is to get the program up and running and we will do just that.”
When Sebelius was a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on October 7, 2013, Stewart suggested that a market-based healthcare system is a flawed concept, and that a government-run, single-payer system might have been preferable. Sebelius replied, “If we could have perhaps figured out a pathway, that may have been a reasonable solution.”
On October 30, 2013, Sebelius testified before a House Committee regarding the difficulties surrounding the implementation of Obamacare:
- At one point during the proceedings, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado)—referencing the fact that millions of Americans were losing their privately purchased health-insurance plans and were being forced into much costlier Obamacare exchanges—asked Sebelius: “Why won’t you go into the exchange? You’re a part of this law. You’re literally in charge of this law. Why should you be any different than all of the other Americans out there who are losing their health insurance?” Sebelius replied: “I would gladly join the exchange if I didn’t have affordable coverage in my workplace…. If I have available employer-based coverage, I am not eligible for the [Obamacare exchange] market.” This was untrue.
- Also during the House Committee hearing, Rep. Billy Long (R-Missouri) said to Sebelius: “I’m asking you today, can you tell the American public … that if it is possible for you to go into the exchange like all these millions of Americans that are going into the exchanges, will you commit to forego your government insurance plan that you’re on now and join us in the pool?” Sebelius ignored Long’s hypothetical and replied, erroneously, that the law prohibited her from going into an exchange. Long pressed the issue: “If you’re wrong, will you? Yes or no?” But Sebelius never gave a definitive answer, only saying that she would “take a look at it.” For videos of Sebelius’s dialogue with both Gardner and Long, click here.
A week later, on November 6, Sebelius testified before the Senate Finance Committe, where Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn asked her: “Isn’t it true that there is no federal requirement for [Obamacare] navigators [who help people enroll in their new healthcare plans] to undergo a criminal background check, even though they will receive personal—sensitive personal information from the individuals they help sign up for the Affordable Care Act?” Sebelius replied nervously: “That is true. States could add an additional—um—background checks and other features, but it is not part of the federal requirement.” An annoyed Cornyn followed up: “So a convicted felon could be a navigator and could acquire sensitive personal information from an individual, unbeknownst to them?” “Uh, that is possible,” said Sebelius. “We have contracts with the organizations, and they have taken the responsibility to screen their individual navigators, and make sure that they are sufficiently trained for the job.”
In response to the Washington Examiner‘s June 2013 FOIA request for emails pertaining to Sebelius’s fundraising on behalf of Enroll America, HHS’s Freedom of Information Act office released 257 pages of heavily redacted emails in late January 2014. According to the Examiner:
“The emails show that White House Office of Public Engagement staffers participated in weekly conference calls with HHS and Enroll America. The emails also show that the agenda of these phone meetings included Sebelius’ calls to outside entities, high-level operational planning and more focused outreach with private partners through senior White House aides.”
This contradicted White House officials’ previous assertions that they had not signed off on calls made by Sebelius to solicit donations for Enroll America, and that they had been only generally aware that Sebelius would be seeking support from outside organizations.
On April 11, 2014, Sebelius resigned from her post as HHS secretary.
For additional information on Kathleen Sebelius, click here.
1 Elements of the smear campaign included the following:
- The state ethics board, two of whose members were Sebelius appointees, accused Kline of lying.
- The left-wing state Supreme Court (appointed by Sebelius) repeatedly hindered Kline’s subpoenas and appeals.
- For 20 months, the state’s disciplinary board for lawyers suppressed an internal investigative report indicating that there was absolutely no probable cause to justify any ethics complaints against Kline.
- A subsequent Kansas attorney general (appointed by Sebelius) destroyed a large number of key documents that possibly could have proven the felony charges against Planned Parenthood, and thus the case had to be dropped.