Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would be given unprecedented new powers under the current health care reform proposals, including the authority to decide what medical care should be covered by insurers as well as the terms and conditions of coverage and who should receive it. According to Devon Herrick, a health care expert at the National Center for Policy Analysis there is "1,697 times where the secretary of health and humans services is given the authority to create, determine or define things in the bill."
HHS would gain the authority to regulate insurance. States currently hold this power but with the current Senate bill, that power shifts to the federal government. This would allow the federal government to implement restrictions and changes that could destabilize the private insurance market by forcing companies to lower premiums and other charges.
Who exactly is Secretary Sebelius and do we really trust her with this much power?
Although she is relatively new to the national political scene, Sebelius has been building her political base in Democratic politics for over 3 decades beginning as the executive director and chief lobbyist for the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association for 9 years. Secretary Sebelius followed that up with 8 years in the Kansas House and another 8 as Kansas Insurance Commissioner before being elected as the second female Governor in the state.
Sebelius cast herself as a centralist who works across party lines to get things done and has worked hard to court moderate Republicans. She personally recruited Republicans to switch party and run as Democrats. Among those is current Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson, who succeeded her upon her confirmation as HHS Secretary earlier this year.
Sebelius career has not been without controversy. She governed with a "my way or the highway attitude" when it came to her allies. As Governor, Sebelius vetoed bills authorizing the construction of coal-fired power plants on three separate occasions. Governor Parkinson was able to broker a deal allowing for the development of a new coal-powered power plant within months of coming into office.
Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry have played a major role in her career. She has been and remains an ardent supporter of abortion on demand and has continuously resisted any efforts to strengthen and enforce existing laws concerning abortion in the state. Among her contributors is the late George Tiller who donated tens of thousands of dollar to her campaign and political action committee over the years.
Sebelius failed to support a 2005 defense of marriage amendment to the Kansas Constitution that made it unconstitutional for the state to recognize same-sex marriage which passed with over 70% of the voters.
One of her most public embarrassments was the resignation of Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison in 2008. Sebelius had personally recruited Morrison to abandon the Republican Party to run against Incumbent Phill Kline after he had investigated Sebelius' allies in connection with possible cases of child rape and illegal partial-birth and late-term abortions.
While we still do not know the outcome of any health care reform legislation, one thing is clear. We know enough about HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to question her ability to make good judgments and to amass the power that will be delegated to the agency should the existing legislation gain passage in Congress and become law.