Kathleen Sebelius, who weathered heavy criticism over the flaw-filled launch of the Obamacare website, then saw the program through as it topped a major milestone, is resigning as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, a White House official said Thursday.
President Barack Obama intends to nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, current director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius, according to the official.
A former Kansas governor and, before that, state insurance commissioner, Sebelius was sworn in as HHS secretary in April 2009.
Her time as head of the federal health agency coincided with the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the bill often referred to as Obamacare.
Sebelius came under fire last fall for the rocky rollout of HealthCare.gov, the website central to the new law’s implementation.
Sebelius was the subject of a “Saturday Night Live” parody and talk show one-liners. Republicans in Congress were especially critical of what they saw as her lack of leadership shepherding through what they saw as an ill-conceived, ill-advised law. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso went so far as to characterize her last October as the “laughing sotck of America. ”
But Sebelius, 65, held on to her job, insisting America shouldn’t abandon the legislation and all that it hopes to achieve.
In an interview she admitted that Obama didn’t know of the website’s many technical problems until “the first couple of days” after it went live October 1.
“There are people in this country who have waited for decades for affordable health coverage for themselves and their families,” Sebelius said, explaining why the website’s launch wasn’t pushed back despite anticipated problems. “…So waiting is not really an option.”
The website’s performance did improve significantly, prompting the calls for her job to die down as well. Earlier this month, in a letter to department employees, Sebeius reflected on Obamacare enrollment exceeding its target of 7 million as evidence of “the progress we’ve made, together.”
“I know that this law has been at the center of much debate and discourse in Washington, but what this enrollment demonstrates is that the Affordable Care Act is working and much needed,” she said in the note.
According to senior Obama administration officials, Sebelius told the president in early March that she thought the enrollment period would end well and, after that, she would step down. Even granted the initial uproar over the website, her decision to resign was on her own accord, the officials said.
Burwell’s nomination is set to be announced at 11 a.m. Friday, according to a White House official.
She was confirmed to her current Cabinet-rank position in April 2013. Before that, she led the Walmart Foundation, the giant retail chain’s charitable organization which, according to its website, donated nearly $1 billion to causes worldwide in 2011. Burwell previously worked in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and in President Bill Clinton’s administration under then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.