Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama today introduced the two women he's chosen to lead his effort to overhaul the U.S. health care system. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has been nominated to head the Department of Health and Human Services, and former Clinton administration health official Nancy-Ann DeParle has been tapped to head the new White House Office of Health Reform.

NPR's Julie Rovner reports.

JULIE ROVNER: It's rapidly becoming the theme of the young Obama administration: You can't address the nation's economic problems without first addressing health care. And the president took the opportunity to repeat that as he introduced his new health care leaders.

President BARACK OBAMA: Fixing what's wrong with our health care system is no longer just a moral imperative, but a fiscal imperative. Health care reform that reduces costs while expanding coverage is no longer just a dream we hope to achieve. It's a necessity we have to achieve.

ROVNER: He'd hoped the person to achieve that necessity would be former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. But when Daschle's nomination to head both HHS and the White House reform effort was scuttled, administration officials were sent scrambling. In the end, they realized they weren't going to find just one person with command of the subject, a close relationship with the president, and a working relationship with Capitol Hill. So the president chose two.

President OBAMA: Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for my secretary of Health and Human Services and Nancy-Ann DeParle as director of the White House Office for Health Reform.

ROVNER: Governor Sebelius meets the close relationship with the president test. She was one of his earliest supporters. And as Kansas insurance commissioner for eight years, she's no novice when it comes to health care.

Helen Darling heads the National Business Group on Health.

Ms. HELEN DARLING (President, National Business Group on Health): She has a lot of experience with health care, particularly insurance, which there's no better timing for understanding how the insurance markets work - or fail to work, in some instances.

ROVNER: DeParle, on the other hand, knows the ways of Washington. She worked on health issues for most of the Clinton administration, including three years as head of the agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid. Darling says her knowledge of those programs will be a plus.

Ms. DARLING: Like everything else in the federal government right now in health care, they have serious problems. And some of those problems are the ones that have been there all along, and they've just quadrupled or grown a hundred times because of cost.

ROVNER: And it's just not the business community, labor likes the new appointees, too. Anna Berger, of the Service Employees International Union, says not to overlook the fact that the health effort will be led by two women.

Ms. ANNA BERGER (Chairwoman, Service Employees International Union): Now, women are good problem solvers. Women understand how to bring people together and get the job done. And I think we're going to see that these two women together are going to get this job done, with all of us.

ROVNER: But both candidates come with some controversy. Even before she was officially named, Governor Sebelius was being hammered by anti-abortion groups in her state for her pro-choice positions.

Mary Kay Culp is executive director of Kansans for Life.

Ms. MARY KAY CULP (Executive Director, Kansans for Life): We have the country's most infamous late term abortionist here, and so we have some pretty active organizations that have been fighting that. And we've had to fight her along the way and she has vetoed clinic licensing legislation twice. She vetoed a simple bill where we just wanted the doctor to report whether a late term abortion was for mental or physical health.

ROVNER: Culp says Sebelius's position on abortion, even though it's the same as the president, should disqualify her for the HHS job.

Ms. CULP: These are sensitive life and death issues that she has a particular view on, and we've seen a particular agenda attached to. And I don't think it's something that's inline with mainstream America and the way they think.

ROVNER: DeParle, meanwhile, has a different set of issues likely to raise eyebrows. Since leaving the government, she served on the boards of a number of for profit health care corporations. A White House spokesman said she'd be resigning from those positions.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.