… and into the fire …

Sebelius, DeParle excellent choices for health reform battle

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Kansas Gov. Katherine Sebelius has already been tempered by the heat of battle over health reform at the state level. And that’s a good thing, considering that she’s about to jump out of the pan and into a national furnace that has charred many a would-be reformer over the years.

The governor’s experience as an insurance commissioner – and as an outspoken advocate for universal health coverage – leads us to believe that she’d not only up for the daunting challenge of  overseeing a 65,000-employee government department, but also for the heated battles ahead.

Even before President Barack Obama gave Sebelius the nod for the Health and Human Services nomination, conservative groups had begun turning up the heat on the new administration’s plans for reform. Yesterday, Politico reported that the group Conservatives for Patients Rights is taking the fight to TV, radio and the web with a multi-million-dollar campaign opposing government-run health care.

But Sebelius will have a strong partner in President Obama’s choice  of Nancy-Ann Min DeParle as his White House health care advisor, aka “Health Care Czar.” As  Jonathan Cohn points out in the New Republic’s health care blog The Treatment, DeParle is no lightweight on the health care front. In the early ’90s, she headed up Tennessee’s state Medicaid agency and did well enough be recruited by the Clinton Administration, who eventually put her in charge of the office which manages both Medicare and Medicaid.

She knows her health care policy, and has those inside-the-Beltway bona fides that Sebelius lacks. DeParle lived through the Clinton attempt to achieve universal health care and, as Cohn notes, “knows her way around Washington,” including not only the White House, but  that part of Washington where Congress works as well.

It’s a big deal, because any substantive health reform legislation is not going to happen without broad Congressional buy-in. The industry opposition will have an army of lobbyists cajoling these legislators, with open checkbooks in hand.

Between these two strong women Obama has chosen, there could be the blend of experience and determination needed to advance his much-needed agenda. We urge Congress to speedily approve Sebelius, so this dynamic duo can get to work immediately.