Nomination of Governor Kathleen Sebelius

Floor Speech

By:  Edward Kennedy, Sr.
Date: April 29, 2009
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I strongly supported the confirmation of Governor Kathleen Sebelius to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

America needs strong and effective leadership in public health. That is true at all times but never more so than when the Nation faces a grave threat from a serious disease epidemic. We face such a threat now from swine flu. The world has looked on with growing apprehension as cases of this deadly new illness appeared first in one nation, then in another, and another. Yesterday, Spain reported its first case. Today, New Zealand. Tomorrow, who knows where the epidemic will have spread.

In our own Nation, we have seen cases of swine flu in New York, California, Texas, Kansas, and Ohio. The disease will surely become more widespread before it abates.

That is why we need effective leadership at the helm of our public health agencies with the authority that only Senate approval can confer. To have delayed this vote would make no sense--the epidemic would grow and more cases would be reported. The Nation urgently needs Governor Sebelius' leadership at HHS in the fight against this deadly epidemic.

Governor Sebelius will face other important challenges as well. None of these is more pressing or more urgent than the need to reform America's broken health care system.

Today we stand at a historic crossroads in health care in America. The United States spends more than $2 trillion a year on health care, accounting for roughly one-sixth of our entire economy. We spend more per person on health care than any other country. Yet our health outcomes, as measured by key benchmarks like infant mortality and life expectancy, lag behind other developed countries. Nearly 47 million Americans are uninsured including over 8 million children and a disproportionate share of minorities. 25 million more of our citizens remain underinsured, and even those with insurance often receive substandard or inappropriate care. Our health care system cries out for reform, and now is the time.

Governor Sebelius has the experience, compassion and steady hand to take the helm of the Department of Health and Human Services and help lead our Nation toward high-quality, affordable health care for all. She has served the people in Kansas well for over 20 years as State legislator, as insurance commissioner and as Governor, and she has demonstrated deep knowledge of the problems plaguing our health care system, and the vision and skill to fix them. Time and time again she has reached across the aisle and achieved practical solutions that have resulted in tangible benefits to families and businesses.

She was asked by former Republican Governor Bill Graves to design and lead the Kansas Children's Health Insurance Program in 1998, and she led an expansion of coverage from 15,000 to over 51,000 children. As Governor, her Healthy Kansas Initiative has helped to contain runaway health care costs, streamline the bureaucracy, and make health insurance and prescription drugs more affordable for thousands of children, working parents and small businesses. To give all children a healthy start on life, she further proposed providing health insurance to every uninsured child from birth to age five.

Governor Sebelius set up counseling programs as well to help senior citizens navigate the complexities of the Medicare prescription drug benefit plan and choose the best plan for their needs. She also established a multistakeholder group of business leaders, consumer groups, health care providers and private insurers to make recommendations on modernizing the health system, promoting coordination and consistency of care and reducing administrative burdens on patients and providers alike.

Through this broad consultative process, Governor Sebelius created a public-private partnership to build and install nationally-recognized health information technology systems, and she pioneered the Kansas ``smart card'' the first health insurance ID card to implement state-wide standards.

Achievements such as these have brought wide accolades. Governor magazine named her as one of its Public Officials of the Year when she served as Kansas insurance commissioner in 2001. Time magazine named her one of the Nation's top five Governors in 2005. Her nomination is supported by the American Medical Association, the AFL-CIO, and scores of other stakeholders. As Warren Buffet said, ``With this appointment, the President just hit one out of the park.''

I thank my Senate colleagues for confirming Governor Sebelius' nomination as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and I look forward to working with her in the months ahead to achieve real health reform for the American people this year at long last.

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