Obama picks Sebelius as health secretary
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has chosen Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be his cabinet secretary charged with helping to overhaul U.S. healthcare, a U.S. official said on Saturday.
Citing her experience in Kansas healthcare and in reaching across party lines, the official said Obama would on Monday formally announce his decision to nominate his fellow Democrat to be secretary of health and human services.
Obama plans a summit at the White House on Thursday to discuss ways to reform U.S. healthcare, which will cost Americans some $2.5 trillion this year while leaving about 45 million uninsured.
He began acting on his pledge to expand health insurance coverage to most U.S. citizens on Thursday with a budget blueprint that calls for a $634 billion reserve fund over 10 years to help pay for reforms.
Obama's first choice for the cabinet job, former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, withdrew his nomination in a controversy over his payment of $140,000 in back personal income taxes.
Daschle also withdrew from a job overseeing a new White House Office of Health Reform. Someone other than Sebelius is likely to oversee health reform from the White House, the official said.
Her appointment requires Senate approval.
The president has not offered a specific health reform plan, saying that he wanted to work with Congress to formulate the proposals. The administration official said Sebelius would play a key role in shaping the changes.
"As a popular two-term governor known for her bipartisan approach, and as an insurance commissioner charged with standing up for better health care for her state, the governor has unique insight and experience to draw on as President Obama's partner in lowering healthcare costs and expanding coverage," the official said.
Sebelius had been considered a top contender for the position after Daschle withdrew. Sebelius was an early Obama supporter and had been mentioned as a possible contender for the vice presidency and other Cabinet posts.
As the Democratic governor of a largely Republican state, she has a reputation for working well with both political parties -- something that drew her to Obama.
"I see in (Obama) the capacity to really reach across party lines and get people together, where people see themselves as Americans once again and not Democrats and Republicans," she said in an interview last year.
She is strongly opposed by some anti-abortion groups, with Operation Rescue saying on its website that she "is perhaps the most rabidly pro-abortion governor in the United States."
The more liberal Catholics United applauded her selection, as did many of her fellow governors, with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer calling her "one of the best problem-solvers I know".
Sebelius will oversee such agencies as the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medicines, foods and other products that make up a quarter of the U.S. economy. She also will be in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which oversees health services for the elderly and the poor.
Before becoming governor, Sebelius spent eight years as state health commissioner. She helped block the sale of the state's Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance program to a for-profit healthcare conglomerate because of concerns it would have raised rates.
As governor last year she urged the Kansas Legislature to adopt a health reform program that included promoting personal responsibility for health and wellness, paying for preventive care and providing all Kansans with affordable health insurance.
At her urging, Kansas is involved in a prescription drug initiative that enables state residents to buy lower-cost drugs from state-approved pharmacies in Canada and Europe, according to her gubernatorial campaign website.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine and Carey Gillam; Editing by Eric Walsh.)
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