The big news of the day in the insurance world is the unexpected resignation of Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
Sebelius, the former insurance commissioner and former governor of Kansas, has headed up the Department for the past five years and has been instrumental in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. HHS is one of the three big government agencies, along with Treasury and Labor, charged with writing the rules and regulations to implement the health reform law. It was a mammoth task, and despite some bumps in the road, Sebelius did an admirable job. Though she reportedly told the President in March that she would resign at the end of the open enrollment period, her resignation comes as a surprise to many.
Much of the criticism of HHS and, consequently, Ms. Sebelius, was because of the flawed rollout of the Healthcare.gov website, which was plagued with technical problems during October and November. A number of critics called for her resignation – or her firing – at that time. But Sebelius didn’t quit and the President stuck with her, and in the end the site got up and running, allowing millions of Americans to sign up for individual health insurance policies and apply for generous tax credits to help pay a portion of the premium. The final enrollment in exchange-based policies reached 7.5 million, half a million more than the administration’s goal and two to three million more than many people expected. While Americans aren’t required to sign up through the state or federal exchange sites to receive a subsidy, private exchanges, which offer a more user-friendly option, rely on the government’s site to determine subsidy eligibility behind the scenes.
President Obama will announce the Secretary’s resignation today, according to the White House, and will name Sylvia Mathews Burwell, current director of the Office of Management and Budget, as the next Secretary of Health and Human Services. Like her predecessor, Ms. Burwell has a very big job to do. Let’s all wish her luck – we have a lot riding on it.