HHS Nominee Hits on Health Reform, Other Priorities in Testimony
At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), President Obama's nominee for HHS secretary said that if confirmed, "health reform would be my mission," the AP/Houston Chronicle reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Houston Chronicle, 3/31).
"Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year," she said (Gensheimer, CQ Today, 3/31). Sebelius said fixing the inefficiencies in the health care system is inextricably linked to improving the U.S. economy (Lengell, Washington Times, 4/1).
During her testimony, Sebelius said, "You absolutely have my commitment" to crack down on medical fraud as part of health care overhaul (CQ Today, 3/31). She said, "Having a few strike operations may be the most effective way to send the signal that there's a new sheriff in town, and I intend to take this very, very seriously," adding, "I certainly think that a significantly more aggressive effort to go after fraud and abuse is well deserved" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 3/31).
Sebelius also told the panel, "Dismantling the current system of employer-based coverage ... is not the most effective strategy to reach full coverage for every American, because so many of our Americans currently rely on employer-based coverage" (Young, The Hill, 3/31).
She added that she does not support "the notion that the government would run the health insurance plan" (CQ Today, 3/31). However, Sebelius said she supports a "public option side-by-side with private insurers in some kind of exchange" (Edney, CongressDaily, 3/31).
Budget Reconciliation Process
Sebelius did not rule out the possibility of using the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform legislation. She said that "there is an interest in not taking any tools off the table prematurely," but added, "I think there's an absolute dedication to engaging Republicans and Democrats in this effort" (The Hill, 3/31).
Comparative Effectiveness Research
In response to questions about comparative effectiveness research, Sebelius said that she does not believe that it would lead to rationed care.Â However, she said that she is concerned about rationing care to control costs.
She told the panel, "I have some experience in fighting for the fact that providers should make medical decisions," as she once served as Kansas' insurance commissioner (AP/Houston Chronicle, 3/31).
FDA, Other Efforts
Sebelius said that in light of recent high-profile outbreaks of food contamination, one of her goals is to restore trust in FDA as the "leading science-based regulatory agency in the world" (CQ Today, 3/31). She said that it is premature to discuss whether the agency should be divided into a drug agency and food safety agency.
Sebelius added that FDA needs to first restore its reputation before discussing whether it would allow U.S. residents to purchase cheaper drugs from abroad (CongressDaily, 3/31).
Sebelius also listed strengthening NIH and implementing the recent expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program as her top priorities if she is confirmed (CQ Today, 3/31).
On Tuesday, the White House disclosed that Sebelius did not pay $7,040 in income taxes that she and her husband owed between 2005 and 2007.Â
In a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Sebelius said the unpaid taxes stemmed from insufficient documentation for charitable donations and an error in deducting mortgage interest.
Sebelius said she has paid the back taxes and $878 in interest.
According to the Los Angeles Times, it is unclear how the tax issue will affect her chances for Senate confirmation (Levey, Los Angeles Times, 4/1).
Sebelius will appear on Thursday in front of the Senate Finance Committee, which will decide whether the full Senate will vote on her nomination (CongressDaily, 3/31).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday reported on how the questions Sebelius faced in the hearing could act as a preview of the upcoming debate over health care reform (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.