Kathleen Sebelius, the embattled Health and Human Services Secretary whose oversight of the health care reform law’s troubled rollout made her a lightning rod for Republican critics, will announce her resignation Friday, officials confirmed.
Her resignation, coming just days after the end of the first open-enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, ends a turbulent five years in the Obama Administration for the former Kansas governor. After her agency oversaw the botched launch of the HealthCare.gov website last year, she became a frequent target of members of Congress in both parties. Republicans repeatedly called for her to resign over the website issues. Sebelius, 65, submitted her resignation to President Barack Obama this week.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who took over as the director of the Office of Management and Budget a year ago, will be nominated to replace Sebelius on Friday, an Administration official said.
The news comes with the White House taking a victory lap over exceeding Obamacare enrollment targets — something that had seemed impossible after the dysfunctional launch — with Sebelius telling lawmakers this week that more than 7.5 million people will have signed up for private insurance under the law. But the website controversy proved to be a costly political weight for the President and his entire party, causing Democrats’ poll numbers to plummet from highs after last year’s government shutdown and once again making the law the centerpiece of Republicans’ campaign for the midterm elections.
Administration officials also still begrudge Sebelius for the rocky start to enrollment, crediting a SWAT team of outside experts with fixing the website and veterans of Obama’s re-election effort with devising the targeted campaign to encourage the uninsured to get coverage.
The White House said last year that Obama would hold off on “Monday-morning quarterbacking” the rollout until after the end of the enrollment period. Last week, when the President celebrated enrollments breaking the 7 million target, he thanked congressional leaders but not Sebelius, who was sitting several feet in front of him in the audience in the White House Rose Garden.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Thursday night defending Sebelius’ record, saying: “From Day One, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has remained laser-focused on a single purpose: to make health care a right, not a privilege, for all Americans. Her leadership has been forceful, effective and essential.”
Others were quick to criticize the beleaguered Health Secretary. In a statement, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said replacing Sebelius would not solve the problems with the law — a centerpiece of the GOP’s election-year messaging.
“Secretary Sebelius oversaw a disastrous rollout of Obamacare, but anyone can see that there are more problems on the way,” Priebus said in a statement. “The next HHS Secretary will inherit a mess — Americans facing rising costs, families losing their doctors and an economy weighed down by intrusive regulations. No matter who is in charge of HHS, Obamacare will continue to be a disaster and will continue to hurt hardworking Americans. It’s time for President Obama to admit that Democrats’ signature law is a failure and heed Republican calls for patient-centered health care reform.”
— With reporting by Kate Pickert