Wednesday | December 13, 2017
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At HHS, Sebelius wasn’t the problem

Last week brought the news that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is leaving the Obama administration, to be replaced by Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Though we’ve consistently opposed HHS policy during Secretary Sebelius’ tenure, we can’t help but feel some measure of pity for the former Kansas governor, who served as the public face of one of the most spectacular public policy failures in American history. While our sentiments might not quite reach the level of sympathy, we can certainly understand why she wanted out.

There is, of course, a political motivation to the timing at work here. Had Secretary Sebelius announced her departure at any point between Obamacare’s disastrous rollout and the recent announcement that the program had exceeded enrollment projections, the move would have been widely interpreted as an admission of failure (or, to put a finer point on it, an acceptance of responsibility — something far too rare in this administration).

While we believe the administration’s boast — that it signed up 7.5 million Americans for Obamacare — will look less impressive as it comes under scrutiny (one issue of paramount importance: How many enrollees were previously uninsured?), the raw numbers constitute the closest thing to a win the program has had since its inception.

That gave Secretary Sebelius a chance to slide out the door with less criticism than she otherwise would have received.

This move is likely also intended to buy the White House some breathing room prior to the November elections. With Obamacare still driving public antipathy toward Democrats in Washington, we expect that, after the secretary’s departure, many of the program’s failings will get pinned on the Sebelius regime. After five years spent blaming George W. Bush for most of the nation’s ills, the White House needs a new scapegoat.

While there were myriad failings associated with Sebelius’s tenure — her complicity in rewriting Obamacare by executive fiat and her continued stonewalling about the demographic composition of the plan’s enrollees, just to name two examples — it’s unfair for either the administration or its critics to lay too much of the blame on her shoulders. Obamacare’s flaws are matters of policy, not personnel.

Changing the HHS secretary won’t undo the logic that cancels millions of Americas’ health care plans and forces them to pay higher premiums. Changing the HHS secretary won’t undo the individual or employer mandates.

Changing the HHS secretary won’t alter the cost pressures on insurance markets if too few of Obamacare’s enrollees are the young, healthy individuals needed to subsidize older and sicker parts of the population.

The problem with Obamacare is the law itself. Switching out the captain won’t change the fact that this is a sinking ship.

— From the Orange County Register


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