To begin on a positive note about the outgoing Secretary of Health and Human Services: Kathleen Sebelius was perfectly cordial the one time I met her.
It was at a birthday party of Tony Podesta, the corporate lobbyist and top Democratic fundraiser. The secretary took a break that October evening in 2009 from the madness of crafting Obamacare to wish a happy 65th to the man whose clients at the time included Novartis, DaVita, Bristol-Myers Squibb and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.
By turning up at a party for a drug lobbyist during the Obamacare debate, Sebelius undermined President Obama's anti-lobbyist talk. Then again, Sebelius had done that already: Before entering politics, she ran a lobbying organization, the Kansas Trial Lawyers' Association.
The revolving door always spun freely at Sebelius’s HHS, in almost comically perfect ways.
HHS’s top food cop is Michael Taylor, the former chief lobbyist for Monsanto.
After Obamacare passed, Sebelius hired Liz Fowler to help put it into effect. Fowler was a revolving-door veteran who had alternated between the K Street-friendly office of Sen. Max Baucus and running the lobbying shop at insurance giant Wellpoint. Today, Fowler runs the lobby shop for pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.
William Schultz, a top HHS lawyer hired by Sebelius, also came from K Street. Steering clear of Obama’s “lobbyist bans,” Schultz deregistered as a lobbyist in September 2008, and days later donated to Obama’s campaign — while keeping at least some of his corporate clients until he joined HHS as deputy general counsel.
Schultz’s biggest client in his lobbying days was Barr Laboratories, maker of Plan B, the “morning-after pill.” After Obamacare passed, Sebelius and Schultz’s HHS construed the Obamacare provision on “women’s preventive health” as a requirement that employers cover 100 percent of the cost of all birth control, including Plan B. Sebelius promoted Schultz to general counsel in 2012 as that office took up cases defending the contraception mandate from religious-liberty lawsuits.
To recap: a Monsanto lobbyist to regulate food, an insurance and drug lobbyist to implement Obamacare and a Plan B lobbyist to help mandate coverage of Plan B.
Sebelius was a model of Obamanomics: carrying plenty of sticks to drive industry where she wanted it to go and bushels of carrots to reward the compliant businesses.
Drug companies benefitted from Sebelius’s crafting of Obama’s “Essential Health Benefits” rules, which were a prime culprit in outlawing many people’s health plans. Late in the regulatory process, HHS responded to the drug lobby’s requests and tweaked these rules, expanding the required drug coverage.
Last week, Obama’s HHS delayed the law’s cuts to Medicare Advantage — cuts that were supposed to help fund the bill’s subsidies for private insurance. Back in 2012, HHS also delayed these cuts — in a typically twisted fashion. Obamacare had (1) prescribed cuts in Medicare Advantage, and (2) set aside billions for HHS to conduct “demonstration projects” in how to expand health coverage. Sebelius's first “demonstration project” was undoing the Medicare Advantage cuts!
Secretary Sebelius made sure to keep the insurers in line politically. After Obamacare passed, she warned insurers not to blame their premium increases on the law’s slew of mandates. “There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases,” she wrote in late 2010. “Simply stated, we will not stand idly by as insurers blame their premium hikes and increased profits on the requirement that they provide consumers with basic protections.”
Back in her Kansas days, Sebelius and the biotech industry had a symbiotic relation — the sector spent more $400,000 on her 2006 gubernatorial reelection, and she championed taxpayer subsidies for the embryonic stem-cell research they wanted.
Late-term abortionist George Tiller funded her campaigns, directly and indirectly, and she consistently vetoed any restrictions on his business.
Always comfortable at the murky confluence of Big Government and Big Business, Sebelius was a perfect fit for the Obama administration. She was probably the most powerful HHS secretary ever, thanks to Obamacare, which delegated unprecedented powers to her position. “The Secretary shall” appeared 700 times in Obamacare, by the count of my colleague Philip Klein. Sebelius, of course, often interpreted “shall” as “may, if she feels like it.”
The revolving door. Abortion extremism. Disregard for the rule of law. Incompetent management. That's Sebelius's legacy.
The secretary shall not be missed.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at [email protected] His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.