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. Mr. Phil

    Hey Scott:

    Ask anyone on Social Security or Unemployment or Welfare if they've ever not gotten their checks on time. As far as the Post Office is concerned, in my 40 years on Planet Earth, I've been able to mail thousands of items without them getting lost (not to mention the sheer logistics it takes to get a piece pf paper from one side of the world to another). This whole concept of the Post Office being slow is blown completely out of proportion. The government can run things efficiently as long as there's a strong management team.

    March 31, 2009 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  2. Jessica

    Reform Health care? Yeah-Obama wants to socialize health care; what a terrible mistake that would be for America. A lot of people in the Scientific industry will be out of jobs in no time. America does not have a clear understanding of how easy american people has it in this country even if its through medicaid. Wait untill Obama socializes our system; you will be told when, where and for what. Ask a Canadian, if you doubt.

    CNN would you post comment for once?

    March 31, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  3. Ernesto

    This lady could do great things. Something must be done and she seems like someone who will be dedicated to practical solutions.

    March 31, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  4. me

    Why is this even an issue still being discussed? Are you that inhuman that you can see another person suffer and not want something to be done about it? Seems like most republicans are. Its all about money to them. Yet, when you drill into their thick skull the fact of the cost saving benefits universal health care, they shuffle away babling some GOP code word of the day.

    GOP-A party of Low Information Voter majority controlled (puppeted?) by the ultra rich corporate manipulators of America. At least 85% of the republican party would be democrats if they were wise enough to see it was in their complete interest.

    March 31, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  5. Roland

    Swift action alright she will probably do away with Medicare and the state programs and tell all of the disabled in this country good luck your on your own. Hey all of my fellow Veterens out there your next on the chopping block !

    March 31, 2009 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  6. Brian Crooks

    When has government ever been able to run anything effective and efficiently?
    How about fire departments? Do you have to call 17 times and go through paperwork before they put your house out? How about the FDA? There are occasional mistakes (more than ever in the past 8 years when their funding was slashed), but I don't worry about getting worms when I eat a hamburger. How about the FAA? I know the planes I fly on are safe and have been inspected. How about the FDIC? Do you panic every time you put money in the bank? I'm not saying the government is perfect and never screws up, but if you treat government programs with the appropriate amount of respect and give them the funding they need to do the job they're set out to do, they can actually be a lot more efficient than the free market because they're not beholden to shareholders, just to the customers. There's a reason insurance companies do whatever they can not to pay for service. It's called the bottom line. If the government program is not based on making money, but on providing service, they can do a remarkable job.

    March 31, 2009 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  7. PaulMoATX

    Sebelius will do a great job at this post. Healthcare without a doubt is the single most important task over the next 10 years.

    March 31, 2009 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  8. jo

    I work with adults with developmental disabilities and things are tight for the residential programs I run. Now ask yourself why that would be.Oh is it because the first thing to get cut when anything goes wrong int he health care system is Medicaid... you would be right. SO hopefully Secretary Sebelius can change that. So that the people I take care of can live happy fruitful lives with out having to live on a shoe string budget.

    March 31, 2009 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  9. Shari, NY

    Why are people who are relatively healthy being told to pop cholesterol lowering pills as a preventie measure to ward off heart and other diseases? Why are people not being urged to eat healthy food and exercise? Why is a pill the answer to every problem? What is the FDA doing about the contents of, e.g., processed food which contribute to the dilemma? This must be the most obese nation on earth and that, in addition to drug problems, are contributing towards high insurance premiums and chronic ill health.

    March 31, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  10. S Callahan

    I welcome good health care but I don't want it less than my current and good health insurance...would like less co pays though.....

    March 31, 2009 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  11. Deborah/kKansas City

    Healthcare reform needs to happen now. As a Nurse for over 30 years, I am tired of our healthcare being treated as a free market commodity; with all the profit going to big corporate CEO's. If, everyone is covered, then the bargaining will stop and the price will be the same for us all. Example, the charge is $2,000 a day for care in the ICU. Blue Cross and Blue Sheild negotiates to only pay $400 per day, United Healthcare Negotiates to pay $450 per day and so on an so on. Only the uninsured have to pay the full price, which then gets written off as a huge loss and expressed as the need to raise prices. Not so if everyone were paying the same price. This contracting makes everything so complicated. The Dr's office has to figure out the co pay for each of the different policies, so do hospitals, labs, and so on. If, everyone is covered, then there can be one price for all, which will greatly reduce expense and should reduce costs. The CEO's are now deciding what healthcare my Dr can give me, or what hospital I can go to, based on how much profit they can make. They are not concerned about the quality of care provided, only in how many millions they can make each year. We can still have private insurance, government sponsered insurance, and options for employers; but there will be no excuse for charging some more than others for the same service, and distorting the costs of things.

    March 31, 2009 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  12. Buddy

    Mr. Phil, What's the latest information about the Post Office needing more money and needing to reduce the delivery days. People on your route are fortunate to get all of their mail, I certainly don't and I do get alot of my neighbors mail. Ever go inside a Post office as a customer and wait in their long and slow lines and they throw up the closed sign? If you've been a Government employee for 40 years, then you really don't have anything to compare it to, it's the only way you know it.

    March 31, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  13. eric

    Great maybe we can increase taxes and put our country more in debt. The government has done nothing right in the past, what would make anybody thing they could run healthcare. Also keep in mind the number of people that are employed by the healthcare industry. Maybe Sebelius can put together a new pork package.

    March 31, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  14. Bruce

    Ummm...right....ok Mr. Senator. You've seen the best of medical care recently. Well guess what? Keep pushing for national healthcare and the best will never be seen again in this country. You can count on that.

    March 31, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    OH NOES!!! NOT SWIFT ACTION!!! Here we go with the cries of "soshulizm" and what-not. The GOP wants nothing more for the Obama administration to get bogged down and stagnate so they can complain about how they're getting nothing done or taking too long (while simultaneously causing the delay) and make it look at the same time like they saved redneck Amurika by causing his "pinko commy policies" to fail. Yawn yawn double-yawn. I hope she universalizes health care faster than the GOP can organize a "party unity" vote of "No" on something proposed by a Dem (without even really knowing what it is).

    March 31, 2009 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  16. Mississippi Mike

    Socializing health care is not a solution, it is a new problem in itself. The health care systems in the UK, Canada and even Massachusetts have gotten worse, not better, under socialized health care policies. I know people what something done NOW every time things do go exactly as planned but when we look at socializing anything you need to look at the long-term effect, not the short term good feeling of having accomplished something.

    Exit question: Do you really want the same people who overlooked the AIG bonuses running your health care system?

    March 31, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  17. WaitandSeeIndie

    Ah yes, another crisis and more legislation (Socialism) cramed down our throats.

    March 31, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  18. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    Any "health care crisis" in this country is the direct result of government meddling in health care. And Sebelius wants even more government meddling? Ridiculous!

    Maybe someday people will realise that all governments have the collective IQ of a house plant and trusting them to do anything is utter foolishness. Government incompetence is legion–how anyone can think that, given the opportunity, they wouldn't mismanage health care into an insanely expensive, totally useless, mess escapes me.

    March 31, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  19. Bob the Observer

    I'm sorry Kennedy is in that condition, but that gives him no extra points. He's always been wrong about health care. All he can talk about is "insurance, insurance, insurance."

    It seems Ms. Sebelius is on target talking about rising costs. I'm glad to finally hear someone address the cause instead of the symptoms.

    I hope she ignores Kennedy and his failed plans, and begins work to cut medical costs.

    If the costs of medical care go down, insurance can be affordable again, and we won't have to socialize medicine, which would run costs even higher.

    Kennedy has always wanted socialism. I'm encouraged that maybe Ms. Sebelius wants affordable health care.

    March 31, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  20. Pete

    It's interesting to consider the GOP "government can't do anything right ever" stance on any domestic initiative. These are the same GOPers who thought that our military (run by our government) could impose American style democracy in Iraq, simultaneously ending a 1,500 year old Sunni/Shia War. Apparently, THAT was a piece of cake, but trying to get everyone a doctor is so impossible that it should not even be discussed?

    March 31, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  21. Henry Miller, Cary, NC

    So, jo, you want people you take care of to "live happy fruitful lives with out having to live on a shoe string budget." But it's okay with you if I have to live on a shoestring budget to pay insane taxes just to give the people you take care of a free ride?

    March 31, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  22. annie - Palin 2012

    Oh God, there goes our health care! Can I sign up now for the knee or hip replacement I might need in 20 years?

    March 31, 2009 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  23. RN in Ann Arbor

    RE: dickelocker

    The taxpayers fund BASIC research that drug companies depend on – Yes it is true. The Drug companies cannot afford to do all that research. If the drug companies did all that the costs of drugs would be even greater.

    BUT, the costs of testing the drugs, bringing those drugs to market, human trials. Those costs are NOT funded by the NIH and those costs are huge.
    Sure the mistakes can be big – and the FDA for the past 8 years has done a terrible job – but, the taxpayers are not paying for everything.
    We need a better team at HHS and Obama is going in the right direction.

    March 31, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  24. Larry from RI

    Do you hear of Europeans, Canadians, Australians or populations from any other country with so called "socialized medicine" falling all over themselves to switch to the US system of health care?

    No, you don't!

    Why do so many Americans go to Canada for their prescription drugs?

    How many people from these countries has anyone on here actually met that are in the US for treatments or procedures they can't get at home – other than the occasional disgruntled interviewee on Faux news?

    One doesn't count – there are hundreds of millions more who like their "socialized" health care system just fine!

    They way the critics of nationalized health care speak, we are being invaded by hordes of people flocking to be treated under BCBS, United Health, Tufts, Pilgrim or any other insurer.

    My guess is that if someone else has something better than you, and you can't have it then you might as well hate it!

    March 31, 2009 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  25. spencer

    Wake up, folks! There will be no chance of Socialized Medicine unless the Democrats have a 60-seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate, which will not happen until at least January of 2011.

    March 31, 2009 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
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