By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
President Obama yesterday named Nancy-Ann DeParle as director of the White House Office of Health Reform, rounding out the leadership of the team that will direct his administration's efforts to revamp the nation's ailing health-care system.
Obama also formally named Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as his secretary of health and human services during a ceremony in the White House East Room. Sebelius and DeParle will be charged with helping to craft and sell the administration's ambitious effort to revamp the nation's health-care system and extend access to the 46 million people in the country who lack coverage, while attempting to rein in runaway costs.
In brief remarks, Obama reaffirmed his plans to push ahead on the initiative, despite warnings from some Republicans and others, who say that it will prove too costly and politically perilous, especially given the nation's severe fiscal problems.
"I didn't come to Washington to take the easy route, or to work for the powerful and the well-connected interests who have run this city for too long," Obama said. " I came here to work for the American people. I came here to deliver the sweeping change that they demanded when they went to the polls in November."
On Thursday, Obama is scheduled to host a White House summit on health care that is intended to bring together a wide variety of constituencies -- from drug companies to doctors -- who have a large stake in health-care reform. That meeting is seen as the kickoff to the administration's effort to push reform legislation through Congress this year.
"I share your belief that we can't fix the economy without fixing health care," Sebelius said to Obama after she was nominated. "The work won't be easy, but bringing about real change rarely is."
Sebelius's appointment drew at least some support from Republicans, with former senator Robert J. Dole and Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) among those flanking her during the ceremony.
But her efforts in Kansas earned its share of criticism. As governor, Sebelius, 60, tried twice to dramatically expand access to health care but was largely thwarted by the state's Republican-led legislature. She did succeed in lowering prescription costs for many people in Kansas and extending coverage to tens of thousands of children from low-income families.
DeParle, 52, was previously commissioner of the Department of Human Services in Tennessee. During the Clinton administration, she worked in the Office of Management and Budget and later oversaw Medicare and Medicaid as the administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration.
DeParle currently is managing director of CCMP Capital, a private equity firm. She also serves on the boards of several firms related to health care. A White House spokesman said she is in the process of resigning all those positions.
"Nancy-Ann DeParle and Governor Sebelius are an outstanding team not only for the president but for the nation," said Frederick H. Graefe, a health-care lawyer and lobbyist. "They each have unique complementary skills, not the least of which is that they are both very smart and very well respected on the Hill by members of both parties."
The critical health posts were filled after former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) withdrew from consideration for both jobs last month after acknowledging that he had failed to pay $128,000 in taxes until after he was nominated.
"Health-care reform that reduces costs while expanding coverage is no longer just a dream we hope to achieve -- it's a necessity we have to achieve," Obama said.
Sebelius's appointment was cheered by many on Capitol Hill, where her nomination will face confirmation in the Senate. "She is an extraordinary leader who does not let partisanship get in the way of doing what is right, and Americans will benefit from Sebelius's many years of experience as her state's governor and insurance commissioner," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid. (D-Nev.). "I look forward to confirming Governor Sebelius as quickly as possible."
But Sebelius, a Roman Catholic who strongly supports abortion rights, was denounced by some abortion critics.
"President Obama insists he wants to reduce abortions, yet he insists upon appointing pro-abortion extremists to vitally important governmental posts that will directly impact the abortion rate," said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. "Governor Sebelius never met an abortion she didn't support, including partial-birth abortions. That she is a dissident Catholic is a further slap in the face to Catholics and the Catholic Church."
Staff writer Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.