Kathleen Sebelius is the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services in Obama's Cabinet. She has served as Kansas' governor since 2002 and before that was insurance commissioner and a state representative.
Washington Saying she’d be a tough enforcer, President Barack Obama’s choice to head the Health and Human Services Department on Tuesday called for a crackdown on medical fraud as part of any health care overhaul.
“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,” Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Sebelius also said she is concerned that efforts to control health care costs may ultimately prompt attempts to ration care, which she would oppose.
As the Democratic governor of a politically conservative state, Sebelius sought to portray herself as a leader who can work with both parties to craft health care reform legislation that would win broad support. Indeed, her comments on fraud and rationing echoed the concerns of committee Republicans.
Fraud is estimated to siphon off about 10 percent of what taxpayers spend for health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, accounting for more than $70 billion a year in losses.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., suggested the Obama administration needs to stanch the losses before it asks taxpayers for more money to cover the uninsured. Responded Sebelius: “I certainly think that a significantly more aggressive effort to go after fraud and abuse is well-deserved.”
On the issue of rationing, Sebelius parried questions from Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., about effectiveness of research for which the administration has allocated $1.1 billion. She disagreed that such research, which compares the benefits of treatments, tests and medications, might lead to rationing. But she said she is concerned about efforts to ration care to control soaring costs, adding that she had battled insurers over that when she served as a state insurance commissioner.
Sebelius was introduced by former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. Dole echoed Sebelius’ call for quick action to overhaul the health system and praised her as a bipartisan leader who could pull it off.
The health committee won’t actually vote on sending Sebelius’ nomination to the full Senate. That job falls to the Senate Finance Committee, which will hold a hearing Thursday.