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Thanks, Kathleen

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"Thanks, Kathleen"

After Overseeing The Largest Expansion Of Health Care In 50 Years, Sebelius Steps Down

News broke last night that Kathleen Sebelius is stepping down from her role as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Sebelius served at HHS for 5 years, working to help pass the Affordable Care Act and oversee its implementation through the first open enrollment period. President Obama has nominated Sylvia Matthews Burwell, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to fill the post (learn more about her here).

Sebelius stepping down is a clear sign that Obamacare has won. As President Obama said: while “we lost the first quarter of open enrollment period with the problems with HealthCare.gov,” Sebelius and her “team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done, and the final score speaks for itself.”

That score?

  • 7.5 million: The (newly updated) number of private signups on the exchange during open enrollment, beating even the rosier predictions.
  • 3 million: The number of young people who now have health insurance because they are able to stay on their parents’ health plans.
  • 3 million: The number of new low-income adults and children who have enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • 9.3 million: The net gain in the number of American adults with health insurance coverage from September 2013 to mid-March 2014, according to the most recent study.

Beyond overseeing this historic expansion in health care for millions of Americans, perhaps Sebelius’s biggest accomplishment is the one no one is talking about: her ability to work across the aisle to convince numerous Republican lawmakers in bright red states to extend health care coverage to lower-income working Americans. Sebelius came to HHS from being a Democratic governor in the very Republican state of Kansas, and her track record of problem-solving and bipartisanship, which was often obscured in the highly politicized debate over the ACA, proved essential in this regard.

Health care writer Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic considered Sebelius’s legacy in the context of her work getting GOP-led states to expand Medicaid:

Authorities from one of those states, Ohio, reported on Thursday that more than 100,000 low-income residents were getting coverage through the state’s expanded Medicaid. The announcement came just hours before the news about Sebelius’ resignation broke—and the juxtaposition seems fitting. The memories of Obamacare’s difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I’m not sure that really matters.

BOTTOM LINE: After serving as a cabinet official for 1,809 days; giving hundreds of interviews and taking dozens of trips to promote the ACA; and bouncing back from a difficult open enrollment roll-out to oversee millions of Americans get access to affordable coverage, Sebelius deserves not ire but thanks. The fight to defend and improve law will continue. But for now: thanks, Kathleen.