HHS Secretary Sebelius Resigns; Obama Nominates Burwell
April 11, 2014 in News
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges and other health IT initiatives, has announced her resignation, Health Data Management reports (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 4/11).
Background on Sebelius
After serving as the governor of Kansas from 2003 to 2009, Sebelius took over as HHS secretary three months into Obama’s presidency (Wayne et al., Bloomberg, 4/11). Sebelius has held the position for more than 1,800 days, a tenure about 500 days longer than average for HHS secretaries, according to the Washington Post (Eilperin/Goldstein, Washington Post, 4/10).
Sebelius had recently become a target for Republican lawmakers who continuously called for her dismissal after the troubled rollout of the federal health insurance exchange (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 4/11).
During an October House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Sebelius told Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) that she would not resign her position, but the secretary accepted some of the blame for the problematic HealthCare.gov launch (iHealthBeat, 10/31/13).
Sebelius also oversaw a number of other initiatives during her five-year tenure, such as the 2009 HITECH Act, which has allocated about $24 billion toward the adoption of electronic health records (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 4/11).
Details of Announcement, Burwell Nomination
White House officials said that Sebelius approached President Obama in March to initiate discussions about her future as HHS’ chief, the New York Times reports.
According to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Sebelius told Obama that surging enrollment numbers at the end of the ACA’s initial open enrollment period provided an opportunity for change. She suggested that an individual who was not the target of so much political criticism might serve him better as health secretary (Shear, New York Times, 4/10).
On Friday, Obama officially nominated current Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Sebelius (Modern Healthcare, 4/11). Burwell will be required to go through the traditional Senate confirmation process in order to take on the role (Haberkorn, Politico, 4/11).
Federal health officials said Sebelius is expected to stay at HHS until her successor is confirmed (Washington Post, 4/10).
Industry Stakeholders Respond
John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and co-chair of the Health IT Standards Committee, praised Sebelius’ work, noting that during the transition he will continue to focus “on the road head” in regards to meaningful use, ICD-10, ACA and the HIPAA Omnibus Rule (Goedert, Health Data Management, 4/11).
Russell Branzell, CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, also applauded Sebelius, saying that she “was extremely supportive of both CMS and ONC with their HIT initiatives.” He also expressed optimism for her future replacement to continue those efforts “at the same level or maybe even greater.”
Meanwhile, Bradley Merrill Thompson, general counsel for the mHealth Regulatory Coalition, suggested that Sebelius’ resignation would have a minimal effect on ongoing health IT initiatives. He said, “Her time at HHS was focused on health care reform, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately it meant that she had little time for FDA or for health information technology.” He added, “[M]y hope is that the next secretary will be able to be a bit more balanced, investing time in making sure that the work of the FDA gets done appropriately, and in a timely way” (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 4/11).