Kathleen Sebelius, the US Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary who bore the brunt of the criticism for the botched Obamacare rollout, has resigned. What ought to have been a triumphant launch for the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, was instead tarnished by the early failures of Healthcare.gov, the website where prospective Obamacare enrolees were expected to sign up to health insurance exchanges.
Shortly before her resignation was reported by Bloomberg on Thursday, Ms Sebelius, 65, announced that some 7.5 million Americans have now chosen insurance plans using the Obamacare exchanges since Healthcare.gov was launched last October. But while the administration eventually met its target of 7 million sign-ups over the six-month enrolment period, the ACA’s reputation remains marred by its chaotic introduction.
Mr Obama accepted Ms Sebelius’s resignation earlier this week, and the White House insisted she had gone of her own volition. The President’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told The New York Times that Ms Sebelius had approached Mr Obama last month to discuss her future. The pair agreed that the recent 31 March deadline for enrolment presented a suitable moment for her to relinquish her role. On Friday, Mr Obama is expected to nominate Sylvia Burwell, presently the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to be the new HHS secretary.
Following invasive surgery by a hastily assembled team of tech experts, Healthcare.gov was saved and, thanks to a last-minute publicity push, enrolments were up to 7.1 million before the deadline of 1 April. The surge in sign-ups in recent weeks was largely attributed to President Obama’s own personal public appearances, including one on the faux chat-show Between Two Ferns, with comedian Zach Galifianakis.
That awkward interview went considerably better than Ms Sebelius’s grilling on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in October 2013, at the height of the crisis, when the host joked that he could download every film ever made more quickly than anyone could sign up to an Obamacare exchange. Last week, as President Obama hailed the success of Healthcare.gov at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, Ms Sebelius was nowhere to be seen. It was an unfortunate conclusion to the cabinet career for the former Governor of Kansas, who in 2008 had even been talked about as a potential running mate for Mr Obama.