Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she has few regrets about how the Obamacare saga has played out, despite a disastrous rollout that led up to her resignation from President Obama’s cabinet last spring.
The former face of U.S. health reform, who is now consulting and giving speeches, took solace in the lessons learned from the 1960s fight over Medicare — a program that is now immensely popular among seniors — as proof that it doesn’t pay to cave into political pressure, she told Politico in a wide-ranging interview.
“I think it was not only well worth it, but a battle worth fighting,” Mrs. Sebelius said. “Millions and millions of people are the beneficiaries of this policy.”
Mrs. Sebelius acknowledged the poor rollout of Obamacare’s insurance exchanges last fall, particularly the federal website known as HealthCare.gov. While she pinned much of the blame on contractors, she said she could have done more to sync up the tech and policy teams.
“I certainly would have much preferred a very smooth rollout and robust enrollment from day one. But I also feel very good about the fact that this president was able to get a law passed that 70 years of debate prior to him, of both Republican and Democratic presidents, had failed to do,” Mrs. Sebelius said in the interview.
High-profile Democrats such as Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York have questioned the party’s decision to use its 2008 election mandate to muscle the health care law through Congress, saying the party should have focused on its economic message.
The law continues to feel the wrath of Republicans, who were left on the sidelines during the Obamacare debate and plan to chip away at the overhaul with dual majorities in the new Congress.
Plus, a Supreme Court case threatens to strip vital insurance subsidies away from customers in two-thirds of the nation, which would seriously dent in the law.
Mrs. Sebelius told Politico that the struggle has been worth it, as millions of people gain coverage through subsidized private plans or the expansion of Medicaid in more than half the states.
“I have the great opportunity, and it happens to me basically every day, that somebody approaches me in the grocery store or in an airport or on a plane and says, ‘Aren’t you that health lady? Aren’t you the one?’” she said. “And then they proceed to tell me a story about their own situation, that they have insurance for the first time, about their mother, about their child, about the fact that this has made a difference in their lives, this is the most significant thing that ever happened. This has saved them money, lots of money. This has been a lifesaver in terms of treatment and support.”