Sebelius Named Secretary of HHS

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


Kathleen Sebelius Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was sworn in as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on April 28. She was confirmed by the Senate in a 65-31 vote.

Through its involvement in the National Coalition for Women’s Appointments, NASW supported Sebelius’ nomination and confirmation. The coalition works to help more women attain cabinet and executive positions in President Obama’s administration.

Before becoming secretary of HHS, Sebelius served as the governor of Kansas from 2003 to 2009. She was the second female governor of the state. She was the Democratic respondent to the 2008 State of the Union address, and chair-emerita of the Democratic Governors Association.

Sky Westerlund, executive director of the NASW Kansas Chapter, was pleased to hear about Sebelius’ confirmation. “When Obama was a senator, he visited Kansas several times before running for president. It was clear that he and Sebelius had a great deal of respect for each other,” said Sky. “As secretary of HHS, Sebelius will be pragmatic, with an eye toward health policy that benefits all. She initiated the Kansas Health Policy Authority in 2005 as a way to promote thinking and focusing on actual health policy in the delivery system, as distinct from politics and piecemeal programs.”

Kansas Chapter President Greg Tangari is confident that Sebelius will do a good job in her new role. “I believe her record reflects that she has been and will continue to be in sync with the values that are core to the social work profession,” he said. “I also believe she brings a great passion to her work and has worked diligently to protect the disenfranchised.”

Sebelius was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1986. In 1994, she ran for state insurance commissioner and won. Tangari says that Sebelius kept the focus on the consumer and the quality of insurance in Kansas when she was insurance commissioner. “She was able to fight off the sale of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Kansas to Anthem Blue Cross because she did not believe it was best for the Kansas Health Insurance customer, despite a great deal of pressure from both the insurance industry and the political hierarchy at the time,” said Tangari.

There are a number of issues of interest to social workers that Westerlund wants Sebelius to address as secretary of HHS. “I hope she recognizes the importance both in quality of services and protection of the public to permit only trained and licensed persons to provide services funded by Medicaid,” said Westerlund. She added that such trained and licensed persons would include BSWs and MSWs, as well as all levels of licensure.

Westerlund wants Sebelius to integrate the idea of health and mental health, saying it could go a long way to dissolve the stigma of mental health needs and the care it requires.

“I would like to see Sebelius focus on building policy for health service delivery for the aged, and deliberately include social workers as the health care providers in that endeavor,” she said.

Furthermore, Sky hopes the new HHS secretary is able to expand the idea of “health” into preventative actions that are supported by government resources.

Tangari believes Sebelius’ personality will contribute to her being effective in her new position. “As a Democratic Governor of Kansas, a strong republican state, Sebelius was able to balance the political realities with good common sense and political savvy,” said Tangari. “She has the reputation of picking her battles wisely, being able to work with others well, but also stick to her guns when necessary. I think she will do a good job as secretary of HHS.”