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Sebelius said to be top contender for HHS secretary

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, whose name was mentioned as a possible choice to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) soon after Pres. Barack Obama was elected, may take the helm there after all. The Democrat, an early supporter of Obama, is said to be his top pick for the post now that his original selection, Tom Daschle, is out of the picture following a tax controversy.

Sebelius, her state’s former health commissioner, has emerged as the frontrunner, unidentified White House officials tell today’s New York Times. The Politico reports that she’s “a leading candidate” for the job – a characterization similar to one the Associated Press made earlier this month, when it said she was “near the top” of Obama’s list.

As insurance commissioner, Sebelius won kudos from consumer groups who applauded her for blocking a merger between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas with an Indiana company because it would, she said, raise premiums in her state. In her seven years as governor, Sebelius, 60, has vetoed anti-abortion legislation, including a bill that would have allowed the state to collect medical records to justify late-term abortion and allow people to seek court orders to prevent women from obtaining late-term abortions. And she’s been in charge of Kansas’ Medicaid program.

When asked about the job, her spokesperson, Beth Martino, told the Times that Sebelius was “focused on the economic challenges currently facing Kansas, including our state budget and the impacts of the federal stimulus package.”

Daschle was also supposed to head up a new White House Office of Health Reform, which will coordinate efforts across government to upgrade the U.S. healthcare system. Administration officials told the Times they weren’t sure who would get that job.

Image of Kathleen Sebelius/U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Dayton Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons

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