Flint Hills Center on Sebelius

From the Flint Hills Center recently:

Title: From Topeka to the DC Beltway

Author: Gregory Schneider

There is some evidence that Governor Kathleen Sebelius would take the position as the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services if President Barack Obama names her to the post, according to a source in the February 10 Wall Street Journal. This comes after former Senator Thomas Daschle had to remove himself from the nomination owing to failure to pay taxes on $140,000 in compensation received from the use of a car and driver. Daschle’s withdrawal led to the vetting of Sebelius. Action is expected soon.

If the Governor takes the HHS position in Washington—if indeed it is offered—it will come only one month after she swore to stay in Kansas to fix our budget problems, something she helped create in her stewardship of Kansas government. If she departs for HHS, the budget problems will be solved by the legislature (which is doing the needed work anyway) and successor Mark Parkinson. Some in the legislature have publicly welcomed her departure.

What would Sebelius bring to the table at HHS? What does she have to show for her efforts regarding health care in Kansas?

For one thing, she is an able bureaucrat, presiding over the creation of the massive, yet ineffective, health reform agency, the Kansas Health Policy Authority (KHPA) which came into existence in 2006. KHPA has been an advocate of expanded government health care and more Medicaid, both of which it may get anyway by the recent stimulus package which awaits congressional reconciliation. With a friend like her at HHS, one may suspect the forces of government health care will expand their reach. Washington will dictate more to the states, which have been laboratories for reform (at least those states headed by governors amenable to reforms which aren’t defined as bailouts from Congress).

But after four years of the KHPA what has changed in Kansas health care? Not much. Medicaid is still a mess. The fiscal health of the government-funded health system in the state is helping to drag down the budget and it will only get worse with the massive infusion of cash—some $112 million additional coming from the House stimulus. There has been no substantial effort made by the KHPA, and by extension, the governor, to address the fundamental problems in Kansas health care—cost of care and continued inadequacies in the Medicaid system. Their major proposals last year, such as premium assistance and other reforms contained in SB 11, were blocked by the legislature; their proposals this year—a smoking ban and tobacco taxes to fund expanded health care spending, may not pass either.

Instead, Sebelius has discussed how vital it is for Kansas to get the additional monies coming from the federal government. Kansas, she claims, needs the money to expand Medicaid eligibility; whether that is a wise idea given the fiscal straits Kansas and the nation are in at the moment, or whether it is sustainable for future generations, is beside the point. There is never any discussion of reforming Medicaid, or helping move people from government insurance to private insurance.

If Sebelius gets the HHS job, she will fit right in with the climate of big spending inside the beltway, something she learned on the job here in Kansas. If it turns out she doesn’t get the job, the Topeka beltway government health gravy train will roll on with the stimulus adding millions to the coffers.
Gregory L. Schneider is a Senior Fellow with the Kansas-based Flint Hills Center for Public Policy. A complete bio on Dr. Schneider can be found at http://www.flinthills.org/content/view/24/39/, and he can be reached at greg.schneider@flinthills.org. To learn more about the Flint Hills Center, please visit www.flinthills.org.Flint Hills Center for Public Policy • 250 N. Water, Suite 216 • Wichita, KS 67202-1215 • (316) 634-0218

As a non-profit, nonpartisan think tank, the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy is an independent voice for sound public policy solutions that will enhance the well-being of all Kansans. Visit www.flinthills.org for more information.

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