Archived: Sebelius Resigns: What Does This Mean For The Affordable Care Act

By Julissa Catalan


Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services Secretary who led the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, announced has resigned.

Sebelius is best know as the person behind Healthcare.gov, the website that was basically unserviceable for weeks after its October launch. This was a major setback for the ACA as it was in its prime stages of implementation, as the website was to be the primary tool Americans could use to enroll into the new program.

She admitted that President Obama was unaware of the website’s problems and was asked why these issues were not taken care of prior to the launch or why the launch date was not pushed back. “There are people in this country who have waited for decades for affordable health coverage for themselves and their families,” she responded. “So waiting is not really an option.”

Critics came after heranyone from fellow politicians to comedians had an opinion. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso went so far as to dub her the “laughingstock of America.”

Sebelius faced the criticism head on. “Let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better,” she said. “I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems. And I’m committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.”

Though Republicans publicly called for her to step down, Sebelius vowed to see the website throughwhich she did until the end of open enrollment. The number of Americans signing up for health insurance through the ACA has increased significantly since the website’s launch in October, especially in recent months when the target number of 7 million enrolled Americans was reached.

Sebelius’s resignation should have little effect on the Affordable Care Act in the short term, and may actually be another sign of its success, according to Amy Davidson of The New Yorker. “Sebelius’s departure, which the Times and others reported late Thursday, won’t have to represent a surrender,” she wrote. “When the Affordable Care Act’s online exchange was launched, in October, and didn’t work, calling for Sebelius to go was a way of saying that the whole project ought to be discarded.

“There would have been a broad effort to send pieces of the A.C.A. out the door with her, as if they were personal items thrown into a cardboard box. Now, the Administration seems confident enough that the law will live; they can let her go without being quite as afraid that anyone but Sebelius herself is paying a price.”

It’s the long-term where Sebelius’s resignation may have an effect, and the coming midterm elections which could reshape the makeup of the House and Senate may be one reason for the timing of Sebelius’s resignation. “Healthcare.gov’s failures presented a two-headed problem for Obama. On a policy level, they threatened the viability of a trademark initiative commonly associated with his name. And on a political level, they’re a huge liability for Democrats in November’s midterm elections. The party stands no real chance of winning the House of Representatives, and the smart money now favors Republicans to take back the Senatein part because of anger about the law,” David A. Graham writes in The Atlantic. “Sebelius’s exit may provide the administration the opportunity to distance itself and Healthcare.gov, but it won’t make those political challenges go away.”

Officials say that Sebelius voluntarily stepped down, but many speculate that she was asked to resign as the Obama administration did not want her poor performance to tarnish the President’s legacy.

“The president himself has said it wasn’t Sebelius who was responsible for writing the code of the website, but certainly she was the secretary running the department and if there was a problem with the website she at least should have known about, corrected it and alerted Obama so that he was not saying on the eve of the launch, ‘it’s going be great, it’s going to function like Amazon and Kayak,'”said NPR’s Scott Horsley.

Prior to her roll in the Obama administration, Sebelius was a Kansas governor, and before that, state insurance commissioner. She was sworn in as HHS secretary in April of 2009.

One White House official referred to her leadership on Obamacare as “one of the most consequential initiatives of this administration,” as well as her efforts to “improve children’s health, expand mental health care, reduce racial and ethnic disparities, bring us closer to the first AIDS-free generation and promote women’s health.”

“The President is deeply grateful for her service,” the official said.

President Obama has nominated Sylvia Matthews Burwelldirector of the Office of Management and Budgetto take Sebelius’s place.

Burwell is a Washington veteran, having served as chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin during the Clinton Administration. She also ran the Walmart Foundation and served as president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program.

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