Sometimes, things go wrong. Sometimes, they go wrong on a major scale, as was the case with the national rollout of Obamacare and the problems that plagued the signup process for Americans struggling to get affordable health insurance by the end of the open enrollment period. Much of the blame for those issues was placed squarely on the shoulders of Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who just stepped down from her Cabinet post, allegedly of her own volition.
Was Sebelius just a scapegoat?
As former governor of Kansas, Sebelius was an aggressive go-getter with a bright political career and possible Presidential prospects. She moved early to support Barack Obama’s run for President, and was nominated for her position as part of the President’s original Cabinet, although she wasn’t his first choice. Since she took office in 2009, though, some claim that she struggled to fit in with Washington culture, and didn’t always assert herself well. She also clashed with Republicans over topics like birth control, and even as she fought to make health care a universal human right in the United States, she also made enemies on the Hill and elsewhere.
When Obamacare rolled out last year and was almost immediately completely dysfunctional, fingers started pointing. As the head of the agency administering the process and the woman theoretically in charge, Sebelius endured every ounce of vitriol either party could muster. The question is: did she deserve it? The Obamacare rollout was a complex and unprecedented process that involved a huge team of people, including coders, consultants and other technical professionals who clearly failed to build a robust system and didn’t anticipate the kind of load it would experience. These individuals faded into the background in the howls, especially from Republicans, for Sebelius’ job.
President Obama initially defended his Health Secretary, arguing that she was doing the best she could and that forcing her resignation during open enrollment would create chaos, making the problem even worse. Yet, by last week, he was already distancing himself from her, as in a public speech where he pointedly thanked members of Congress for their work on Obamacare at the end of open enrollment, but didn’t include Sebelius, even though she was seated mere feet from him.
According to statements from the White House, Sebelius approached the President in March to discuss moving on from her position and finding a new figurehead for the department, in part to draw fire away from Obamacare and refocus the program. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the replacement nominee, comes from the budgeting department within Health and Human Services and has a strong background in business and administration, which may serve her well as she takes over the role. Yet, it’s clear that Sebelius experienced considerable internal as well as external pressure to resign from her post, with few people rising to her defense in the wake of her announcement that she’s chosen to leave her position.
One of the few speaking up for her is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who argues that Sebelius was and remains committed to health care and human rights in the United States. She appears to be in the minority in more than one sense, with even fellow Democrats disassociating from Sebelius and what they see as her disastrous implementation of Obamacare.
While she may have made an easy figure to blame, though, the problems at rollout were not necessarily her fault. A failure to acknowledge that may mean that the system continues to be plagued with issues in the months to come.
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