Diagnostics & Imaging Week Washington Editor

After a couple of weeks of speculation, the Obama administration has confirmed that it will nominate Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius for the job of Secretary of Health and Human Services, but has also appointed Nancy-Ann DeParle as the first director of the White House Office of Health Reform, according to an announcement posted at the White House web site yesterday.

The Sebelius pick had been rumored for some time, but the question of whether she would assume the post of healthcare czar seemed still up in the air. Sebelius has drawn raves from a wide range of stakeholders and the assumption going forward is that the Obama administration has scrubbed down this nomination much more carefully than previous cabinet picks. Sebelius, who is serving her second term as governor, is ineligible for re-election, but the Democrat brings a substantial body of experience to the job, having served as both the state's insurance commission and Medicaid program director.

Like Sebelius, DeParle brings extensive experience to the job. She was director of the Health Care Financing Administration, since then renamed as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, from 1997 to 2000. DeParle also served as the associate director for health and personnel at the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration, from 1993 to 1997, and joined the board of directors of Boston Scientific (Natick, Massachusetts) in 2006.

The White House's first pick for the HHS job, Tom Daschle, flamed out over unpaid taxes despite support from both sides of the political aisle. The HHS job is a priority over the nomination for the FDA commissioner's office despite the recent salmonella-tainted peanut butter crisis, which has renewed calls for taking responsibility for food away from FDA.

The president of the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH; Washington), Chip Kahn, issued statements lauding both moves. According to a March 1 statement, Kahn described Sebelius as "an excellent choice," adding that FAH "heartily applaud[s] President Obama's nomination." Regarding DeParle, Kahn noted in a March 2 statement that she is part of an effort by the administration to put in place "a first-rate team" for healthcare reform and that DeParle "will be a keystone of that team."

In a March 2 statement, Nancy Nielsen, President of the American Medical Association (AMA; Washington) said that as the Kansas governor, Sebelius "demonstrated her commitment to health care reform by expanding access to care for children" and that as the state's insurance commissioner, she "helped preserve competition and choice in the health care marketplace by halting a problematic health insurance merger in the state."

Karen Ignagni, President/CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP; Washington) said in a March 2 statement that Sebelius is "the right person to move the President's health care agenda forward," describing her as "a proven leader with extensive knowledge of health care issues and a long history of working effectively across the political aisle." Ignagni also said DeParle "brings considerable experience and a strong track record working on all of the health care issues facing the nation."

One of the dissenting voices is that of Americans United for Life Action (AULA; Chicago), which opposes Sebelius' nomination based on the governor's positions on abortion. According to a March 1 blog posting by Denise Burke of AULA, Sebelius is affiliated with George Tiller, MD, of Women's Health Care Services (Wichita, Kansas), who is scheduled to go on trial for violating state law that requires a physician to obtain the signature of a second physician prior to performing late-term abortions. A number of other pro-life groups also oppose Sebelius on similar grounds.

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