REPUBLICAN politicians in the United States have seized on the resignation of president Barack Obama’s long-serving secretary of health to renew calls for the repeal of his controversial healthcare reforms.
The White House yesterday confirmed the departure of Kathleen Sebelius, who was widely criticised for the disastrous launch of the government website designed to encourage Americans to sign up for new healthcare insurance plans offered under so-called “ObamaCare”.
Ms Sebelius weathered the storm, initially at least, with senior Democrats praising her for guiding Mr Obama’s flagship Affordable Care Act through to its key 31 March enrolment deadline.
“Her legacy will be found in the 7.5 million Americans signed up so far, the 3.1 million people covered on their parents’ plans, and the millions more gaining coverage through the expansion of Medicaid,” said Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives.
Senior Republicans, however, brushed the tributes aside, saying the resignation of the health secretary after five years in post was “too little, too late”.
“Virtually everyone who has come into contact with this law has had new reason to worry about what it means for the government to control their healthcare,” said Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.
“Secretary Sebelius may be leaving, but the problems with this law and the impact it’s having on our constituents aren’t. ObamaCare has to go, too.”
Both sides agree on one point, however, that the incoming health secretary has her work cut out. In an address at the White House yesterday, during which he praised Ms Sebelius’s “extraordinary leadership”, Mr Obama nominated White House budget director Sylvia Matthews Burwell to the post, subject to Senate approval, and said there was “much work still to do”.
“Anyone can see there are more problems on the way. The next secretary will inherit a mess, Americans facing rising costs, families losing their doctors and an economy weighed down by intrusive regulations,” said Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee.
“No matter who is in charge of health and human services, ObamaCare will continue to be a disaster and will continue to hurt hardworking Americans.”
Washington analysts say that Ms Sebelius, one of the longest serving members of Mr Obama’s administration and credited with helping drive the Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2010, never fully mended a relationship with the White House fractured by the website debacle last autumn.
Touted as a simple, one-stop portal for those looking to sign up for private insurance coverage, healthcare.gov was launched in October amid much fanfare, but never lived up to its promise. Technical problems left users frozen out or simply unable to reach the website in the first place, issues that lasted for several weeks until a “hit squad” of IT professionals was sent in to fix the major glitches.
Ms Sebelius, 65, quickly became a lightning rod for Republican outrage and although she survived calls for her sacking then, Mr Obama notably omitted her name as he thanked congressional leaders during a post-enrolment speech at the White House last week.
According to administration officials, Ms Sebelius offered her resignation to the president earlier this month, suggesting the enrolment deadline would provide a good opportunity for a fresher and less controversial face to lead ObamaCare through the last three-and-a-half years of his second and final term.
Her expected replacement, Ms Burwell, 48, is a Harvard graduate and served as assistant to treasury chief Jacob Lew for three years during Bill Clinton’s presidency before becoming Mr Clinton’s deputy chief of staff in 1997. A former president of the Walmart Foundation, she was approved as White House budget director by a 96-0 vote in the US Senate last year.