Sebelius resigns after wave of new enrollments

April 11, 2014

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resigned within a short time after announcing that nearly half a million more people enrolled in the exchanges

Sebelius drumming up enrollments in Cleveland in MarchAlthough many had called for the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last fall, her departure yesterday came as no surprise. The glitchy state and federal marketplaces eventually tallied 7.1 million enrollments under her watch-overshooting the administration's symbolic goal of 7 million-but that dubious success wasn’t enough to save the White House from election-year political wounds.

Sebelius told the Senate Finance Committee that another 400,000 people had signed up for health plans on the exchanges after the deadline because they were waiting in line on March 31 and were permitted to complete their enrollments. She also announced the additional enrollments on her Twitter feed around 4 p.m. on Thursday-just a short time before her resignation.

As of this week, 400K more Americans have signed up for coverage. If you’re in line, you can still #GetCovered! http://t.co/21ey1v2mz9

- Kathleen Sebelius (@Sebelius) April 10, 2014

Republicans are again calling for repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in light of the announcement, according to Fox News. They believe the resignation will not fix ACA’s fundamental problems.

Meanwhile, Democrats defended Sebelius because of the aggressive schedule and unprecedented reforms that she was responsible for under ACA, according Politico.

Thank you to Pres. Obama, talented colleagues at @HHSGov. It has been the cause of my life and am grateful to serve at a historic time

- Kathleen Sebelius (@Sebelius) April 11, 2014

According to MSN, the resignation sets the stage for a contentious battle to find her replacement. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been identified as the administration’s pick to fill the secretary’s vacant position.

"Sebelius' resignation was certainly not unexpected, it was more a question of when it would happen,” says Randy Vogenberg, PhD, RPh, Principal, Institute for Integrated Healthcare. “Most think she wanted to go out on the high note of meeting enrollment objectives as opposed to resigning after the initial failures of the healthcare.gov launch."

Vogenberg says the secretary's job requires someone with operational experience and administrative talent, rather than political clout.

"There are a lot of names being bandied about, but it’s likely the administration will want someone who can handle all the ongoing complications and adjustments to the law that have been made prior to the mid-term elections," he says. "Whoever gets the job will have a busy summer and fall.  I think specifically the administration wants someone who can ensure a successful 2015 enrollment period.”