Many Republicans say this was supposed to be the easy part of the complex new law, a simple website where people could shop for health insurance and sign up for coverage. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Pat Roberts of Kansas and others have called for Sebelius to resign. Roberts, from her home state, voted for her confirmation in 2009 to lead HHS, but has now changed his assessment.
Facing a GOP primary challenge from a tea party candidate, Roberts this month accused Sebelius of “wasting taxpayer dollars on advertising and promotional tours” while Americans couldn’t sign up for health care plans as promised.
Democrats are complaining, too. New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen called the website rollout “a disaster” and has asked Sebelius to extend the six-month enrollment period beyond the Mar. 31, 2014, deadline.
Sebelius is no stranger to politics; she grew up going door-to-door for her father’s political campaigns. In 2008, as Kansas governor, she delivered the Democratic response to President George W. Bush’s State of the Union. The next day, she endorsed Barack Obama for president. Sebelius was tapped by Obama to lead HHS in 2009 after his first choice, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, withdrew from consideration.
She has been considered a steady hand and no-nonsense administrator adept at reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans.
As she testifies this week, Sebelius’ challenge will be explaining the huge website mess and restoring confidence amid its continuing problems.
Ron Pollack, a longtime health care advocate, has known Sebelius since the ’90s when she was the insurance commissioner for Kansas.
“She’s got abundant knowledge about America’s health care system,” says Pollack, head of the liberal advocacy group Families USA.
“Whether you agree or disagree with her on a particular issue, her style is open, friendly and warm,” he said. “It makes it easy for people to have a thoughtful dialogue with her.”
Pollack says he’s not surprised by the Republican ire.
“We have seen unrelenting opposition to anything and everything to do with the Affordable Care Act,” Pollack said. “If the problems get fixed and people get enrolled, this will be forgotten history.”