National Opinions

Kansas City Star: Sebelius is the right doctor

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has insisted for years that expanding access to medical care and containing soaring costs are the twin pillars of health-care reform.

She's got that right. And though her Republican-dominated Legislature balked at her proposals for expanding coverage, Kansas has created a more efficient and transparent health-care delivery system while she's been governor.

Sebelius now will have the chance to put her convictions to work on a much larger stage. President Obama announced Monday that she is his nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

The job is a good fit for Sebelius, a wonkish (and we mean this as a compli- ment) Democrat who has enjoyed political success in an overwhelmingly Republican state.

She relishes an execu- tive role and believes in finding efficiencies and in streamlining bureau- cracies -- traits that should help with running the mammoth Health and Human Services apparatus. Though an outsider to Washington, Sebelius is good at enlisting expert advice and will reach across party lines to get something done. She should be able to work with a White House "health czar," if Obama chooses to appoint such a person.

As Kansas' elected insurance commissioner, Sebelius placed the inter- ests of consumers first.

In her first term as governor, Sebelius teamed up with Republican Sandy Praeger, her successor in the insurance commis- sioner's post.

They announced a sweeping plan to stream- line the state's health-care bureaucracy and make health care more acces- sible for children and some low-wage working parents, and more afford- able for small businesses.

Much of the plan was to have been funded through a hefty tax on tobacco sales.

The Legislature never approved the tax increase, and lawmakers have thwarted most proposals to expand access to medical care.

Sebelius' proposals for cost containment were better received.

Lawmakers, in fact, co- opted her idea of pulling the state's far-flung health- care apparatus into a single agency. They created the Kansas Health Policy Authority, which has successfully cut costs in the state's Medicaid program and made the health-care program for state employees more prevention-focused.

Sebelius has pushed the agency to adopt cutting-edge health information technology, said Marcia Nielsen, the executive director.

A fitness buff, Sebelius can be expected to use a national pulpit to advocate for healthy habits.

Sebelius served Kansas well by standing up to the Legislature when she needed to. She fought to obtain more funding for public schools.

And she stood firm in her opposition to construction of two coal-fired plants that would pollute Kansas air.

Thanks to Sebelius, Kansas has made progress on making health care more efficient, if not yet more accessible.

With the support of Obama and a Democrat-controlled Congress, she may find traction for her belief that all citizens deserve quality health care delivered in a cost-effective manner. That would be good for America.