Is Kathleen Sebelius Simply a Scapegoat?

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.

Photo credit: Wikipedia


Jim Ven
Jim Ven7 months ago

thanks for the article.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

Eric L. You are right!!!

Eric Lees
Eric Lees2 years ago

She was in charge therfore the blame lies on her. Of course Obama shares the blame, but he has a track record of bad appointments. The wrong person and wrong company to implement the project. They needed a business person with a proven track record not a politician to run Obamacare.

Yellan, another bad pick for figure head of the FED says inflation is too low.

Joan E.
Joan E2 years ago

I'd like to know if it is true Sebelius asked to be removed. Rachel Maddow showed a news clip of a reporter asking Sebelius sometime before this announcement whether or not she planned on staying on, and she said she was committed to the job and definitely waneted to stay. Sebelius did stay on to the point that the website was fixed and millions had signed up by the deadline, so by then she was as responsible for the success of the program as she was for the problems. If she didn't change her mind and decide it was time to move on, why would Obama want her to quit now... unless he was giving in to the right who had made her one of their Voodoo dolls, and he thought he could defuse that by getting rid of her now? He should never do that. If you stand by someone through the bad times, don't turn on them in good times, when the right has once again been proven wrong on all counts.

Rhonda B.
Rhonda B2 years ago


Rhonda B.
Rhonda B2 years ago


Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants2 years ago


Aud nordby
Aud nordby2 years ago


Marianne C.
Marianne C2 years ago

She may be running for the Senate. She used to be governor of Kansas, you know. And if she ran for Senate, she'd be challenging that jerk Pat Roberts, who was blathering about her "gross incompetence" during the ACA roll-out, and calling the ACA a complete failure.

Now that the numbers prove that Roberts was wrong on both counts, this might be as good a time as any for running against him.

And face it, with 19,000,000 people now covered who wouldn't be if not for the ACA, the only bigger vindication for "Obamacare" would be for it to turn out that the programmers who screwed up the web site so badly were actually GOP operatives.

Mark Spiegel
Mark Spiegel2 years ago

"Is Kathleen Sebelius Simply a Scapegoat?" Well duuh!

I didn't expect anything approaching honorable behavior from the Republicans but shame on the President for accepting her resignation.

Never forget, its not where you start, its where you finish. By all accounts the finish was spectacular.