March 31st, 2009
11:30 AM ET
9 years ago

Sebelius pledges swift action on health care

Sebelius is Obama's nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary.

Sebelius is Obama's nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius opened her Senate confirmation hearing for health and human services secretary Tuesday by pledging swift action on the burgeoning U.S. health-care crisis.

"We face a health system that burdens families, businesses, and government budgets with sky-rocketing costs. Action is not a choice. It is a necessity," she told members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Sebelius' hearing was chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, who has made few public appearances since being diagnosed last year with malignant glioma, an often-lethal type of brain tumor.

"Over the past 10 months, I've seen our health-care system up close. I've benefited from the best of medicine," Kennedy said. "But we have too many uninsured Americans. We have sickness care and not health care. We have too much bureaucracy. ... Costs are out of control. But today, we have an opportunity like never before to reform our health care."

Former Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, also from Kansas, testified on Sebelius' behalf, arguing that her record as governor had proven her ability to work in a bipartisan manner.

"Sebelius' strength is that she understands health care (and is) willing and able ... to bring parties together in very critical areas," he said.

Sebelius, 60, is the daughter of former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan, who led that state from 1971 to 1975. A two-term Democratic governor in a Republican-leaning state, she previously served as a state insurance commissioner and oversaw Kansas' Medicaid program. She has been credited with boosting health-care assistance for the poor during her tenure.

A number of leading social conservatives have criticized Sebelius for her record on abortion, citing, among other things, her veto as governor of legislation that would have tightened abortion regulations in Kansas.

In vetoing the measure last April, Sebelius wrote that the bill was problematic because it included no exceptions for pregnancies that endanger a woman's life and it allowed individuals to seek court orders preventing a woman from obtaining an abortion, even if the procedure was necessary to save her life.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue recently called Sebelius an "enemy of the unborn." He said her nomination is particularly disturbing because the health and human services secretary is one of the few members of the administration who can directly affect abortion policy.

"Sebelius' support for abortion is so far off the charts that she has been publicly criticized by the last three archbishops of Kansas City," Donohue said in a written statement.

The liberal group Catholics United has come to Sebelius' defense, saying the Kansas governor has taken several steps to lower the abortion rate in her state. The group also has posted excerpts of a 2006 speech in which Sebelius said she opposed abortion.

"My Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred, and personally I believe abortion is wrong," she said then. "However, I disagree with the suggestion that criminalizing women and their doctors is an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing the number of abortions in our nation."

Another lightning rod for Sebelius is the attendance by Dr. George Tiller and his staff at a 2007 reception she held at the governor's mansion in Topeka. The doctor, who specializes in late-term abortions and once received the National Abortion Federation's highest honor, bought the right to attend the reception in a charity auction held for the Greater Kansas City Women's Political Caucus, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Tiller is presently facing charges relating to his practice. Last month, a district judge denied a motion to dismiss the case, meaning Tiller will go to trial on 19 misdemeanor counts relating to how he procured second opinions for late-term abortions, according to The Wichita Eagle.

If confirmed by the Senate, Sebelius would take office as the Obama administration begins promoting an aggressive agenda for health-care reform.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota - President Barack Obama's first choice for secretary of health and human services - withdrew on February 3 after controversy erupted over his tax records and over his work in a field that some consider lobbying.

Filed under: Kathleen Sebelius
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Kevin in Ohio

    No, thanks. A waste and huge potential government bureaucracy.

    March 31, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Although I think Tom Daschle was the ideal candidate for this position, I think Kathleen will do a good job at it. She understands the importance and the urgency of the situation. Plus she's able to reach across the aisle. This healthcare reform will need to be bipartisan. I hope Congress doesn't pass up this opportunity to finally do healthcare reform.

    March 31, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  3. Lotta Muni

    The simplest way to bring down the price of healthcare in the US is to regulate advertising of prescription medication. Anywhere else in the world people can buy the exact same medications we do at a fraction of the price. This is not because of any government backed health care, it's because the prices we pay are grossly inflated to cover the gargantuan amounts spent to advertise on US TV.

    March 31, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  4. mark

    It will burden us more when half our pay check goes to the gov't for VA type health care.

    March 31, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  5. Michael - USAF Veteran

    Another Democrat Fear Monger.

    March 31, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  6. Maggie

    Keep all insurance simple:

    Patient pays a $10 co-pay.
    Insurance pays 80% up to $5000.
    After that, insurance pays it all.

    It doesn't matter if you have a pre-existing condition. Once you have insurance, you've got it for everything. There's no limit.

    As far as buying insurance through your workplace, again, keep it simple:

    Individual pays half of their coverage, company pays the other half.
    Family - $25 per person per month.

    Buying independent insurance - keep it simple.

    $50 a month, full coverage.

    March 31, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  7. Baze

    Unless we get very honest about what the problems are with health care than we're not going to solve it. Here are the problems

    1) Illegals and lazy unemployed Americans receiving uber expensive emergency room care

    2) Fat smoking Americans ignoring the doctor until they are on death's door

    3) Unethical doctors tossing around prescriptions to crazy patients, and effectively getting them hooked on symptomatic treating medications

    March 31, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  8. JA/TN

    it is shameful, we build sports stadiums, have space explorations,cutting edge scientific discoveries, and to date ther are citizens without affordable healthcare, food housing and recently employment

    March 31, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  9. rodlang

    Nationalized health care covers more people with the basics but specialized care is sacrificed. The unfortunate death of Natasha Richardson is a good example. They didn't even have a helicopter for emergency transfer to a hospital with neurological services. There was a similar story of a young girl in the US who was immediated transferred via helicopter. We have to make sure we get this right.

    March 31, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  10. Scott

    When has government ever been able to run anything effective and efficiently? Take a look at the post office, you want that for your Health Care? I agree something needs to be done, but I have no confidence that the government can do it.

    Health care costs are likely to go up and quality down, that is if you will even be able to get treatment. Health care costs should be reasonable for everyone to afford and available to everyone, but the government should not try to socialize medicine. Quality of care is more important than Quantity.

    March 31, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  11. Sammy

    Until we get health care costs under control, this country will never be able to compete with any country in terms of manufacturing. Excessive costs are also a huge impediment to small businesses. Health care reform has to happen to keep this country on a productive track.

    Sebelius is a good choice.

    March 31, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  12. Pee Wee

    We're broke, but let's go buy a new yacht and a vacation home.

    Oh yeah, you need to fund it for me.

    You have to love Uncle Ted's remark, "...We have sickness care and not health care. We have too much bureaucracy. … Costs are out of control. .."

    He alludes to preventive type care, but his life has NOT been the model of clean living. Although I must admit, his remark is correctly directed.

    If he thinks there is too much bureaucracy today, he probably needs an optometry appointment with his next chemo treatment. He has to be blind to not see that injecting government will increase the size of the bureau.

    The next time you're at the DMV, just pretend you need medical care and you're at the clinic.

    March 31, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  13. healthcare is in terrible shape

    we have been getting bounced around like a ping pong ball and we are very lucky, back and forth between health care systems

    how can the health care industry think this is a good system? In four years four different plans.

    We at least have been on a plan, I hear stories constantly of people who have gone on COBRA (really expensive) or worse, no plan


    March 31, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  14. Michael

    We need a solution that lowers the cost of health care and insurance for those who already have it and provide health insuracance for those who do not have it and can't afford it. To have the government just pay for everyones health care without lowering the cost, will just pass the full cost to the government and will solve nothing and result in massive deficit increases or tax increases. The cost must be brought under control.

    March 31, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. Andrew from Illinois

    Democrats aren't fear mongers so don't accuse us for no reason. Health bills amount to half of the bankruptcies in the U.S. and we need to reform the system now and we shouldn't let something like a person's abortion views get in the way.

    March 31, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  16. Alfred E. Neumann

    Yes, pledging swift action on health care.

    Until the industry lobbysts begin their dance of spreading some "green" fertilizer to ensure things stay just the way they are.

    Swift action on health care – sounds like an opening monologue for Jay Leno.

    Hillary Clinton ran on health care reform and look what it got her.

    March 31, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  17. Larry from RI

    Why not make all health care non-profit and prohibit our personal and our families health from being traded on Wall St.?

    We are no more valuable than pork bellies or soy beans to these corporations while the CEOs and senior management running them rake in billions at the public's expense!

    March 31, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  18. Fair is Fair

    Swift action, huh? You're not going to be able to see a doctor very swiftly, that's for sure.

    Maggie... believe me, your numbers just don't add up.

    Baze... while I generally agree with much of what you stated, the biggest cost in healthcare is the amount of care given in the last year of life. This will not be a problem going forward, as the government run system will not allow that to occur. You get old, you get out. Ask the Europeans.

    March 31, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  19. Dennis

    Will be glad to get Sebelius out of Kansas. There can be no universal heath care without tort reform. In addition there should be standardized pricing of services.

    Obama mocked McCain during the campaing because McCain proposed taxes on employer provided health care to finance universal health care. How does Obama propose to finance it? In the long run 80% are going to end up with worse coverage than we now have.

    March 31, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  20. Mia and Mike

    We as a nation have to do something about healthcare, and I appreciate her comments. As a nurse, I can tell you that a huge portion of people that come in through the emergency room are there for conditions that could be easily addressed at a local community health clinic. We have to get back to local, public health services so that the hospital emergency rooms aren't bombarded by people who simply have no where else to go for medical services. Managed care had it's turn, and obvioulsy it has not solved much. We need to allow people to be able to receive services close to home and community health centers are the best providers of such care. People where a lot more healthier when they had such clinics and visitng home nurses.

    March 31, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  21. Matthew in Colorado

    In 1990, the Government seized the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada for tax evasion and, as required by law, tried to run it. They failed and it closed. Now we are trusting the economy of our country and our banking system to the same folks who couldn't make money running a whore house and selling whiskey. I have the same level of confidence in their ability to legislate and regulate a health care system in an efficient, cost-effective, life-giving manner.
    Speaking for myself, I'd prefer to buy my own whiskey.

    March 31, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  22. The Common Sense Party

    All the rhetoric about bloated government red tape is b.s. Medicare is by far a vastly superior system than the current private health care industry. The administrative margins alone put the health care companies to shame! Medicare is there to make people healthier. Private healthcare insurance is there to make shareholders rich. When people get healthy, share holders lose money and vice versa. As long as we can make it efficient and fair, and ensure that people are allowed to pursue whatever medical choices they want, I support Sebelius. No mandates from the gov't. Free choice. If you want to spend your own money for the best plastic sugeon in Beverly Hills, go right ahead. But if you need a competent doctor to perform cleft lip surgery, you should not be denied one.

    March 31, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  23. Majik

    Lets socialize healthcare. Now that the government has taken over the financial market, the insurance market and the auto industry why not healthcare?
    You voted for change. How do you like it?

    March 31, 2009 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  24. Pee Wee

    I doubt there will be any tort reform looked at (trial lawyers lobby).

    Probably no help for the insurance costs that doctors must carry to save their career in the case of one mistake. (see my first point).

    Unnecessary tests conducted to help cover in case of a lawsuit drive the costs up so the doc can perform the CYA maneuver. This contributes heavily to rising health care costs (see point 1).

    When a doctor recently offered his patients a $79 per month plan and he'd do it all, the state told him he couldn't do that because then he would be in the insurance business (government intervention for you).

    Government is NOT the solution for all problems. It shold be seen as a LAST resort, not the first option.

    March 31, 2009 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  25. dickelocker

    The pharmaceutical industry is in the same fat-cat position as AIG, but the public is not outraged. We, the taxpayers, fund up to 100% of research for new drugs through the National Institutes of Health, then turn those drugs approved over to pharmaceutical manufacturers to sell (NIH does not require refund of research monies). The Rx industry is not losing money, even during this depression, and their expensive CEO's are, in effect, subsidized by us taxpayers. I agree with L.Muni: Cost of advertising greatly adds to the inflated cost of US prescriptions. Like the banks, we need a private-public regulation and consortium to deal with medical costs. The cost of prescriptions in the US is hardly related to the cost of research (we subsidize) and production (minimal cost when outsourced). It is related to executive greed. rel

    March 31, 2009 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
1 2 3