History Suggests HHS Candidate Not Unbiased on Thimerosal-Vaccine Issue
With Tom Daschle's withdrawal over unpaid taxes, a leading candidate to head HHS is Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius is Governor of Kansas, has served as Kansas Insurance Commissioner and was an ardent supporter of Obama throughout his campaign. What she has not been supportive of were safety concerns over thimerosal, the highly toxic mercury-based preservative in vaccines.
As early as 2003, her staff has ignored warnings of thimerosal dangers, relying on federal and corporate information. This was even before the 2004 IOM Report and the first major epidemiological study by Stehr-Green denying an association between thimerosal and autism had been published in Pediatrics, a study that had been heavily criticized by Mark Blaxill of SafeMinds for serious flaws. Nonetheless, Sebelius is high on Obama's list of potential appointees for Secretary of the HHS and has said she would take the position if offered to her. If appointed, the future does not bode well for victims of thimerosal damage seeking compensation, or children of future generations who are susceptible to the poison.
Jake Crosby is a student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University who plans to major in history, and a Contributing Editor of Age of Autism.
Actually, Stehr-Green was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, not Pediatrics. Sorry for the mix-up.
Posted by: Jake Crosby | May 08, 2009 at 04:03 PM
WASHINGTON – As President Barack Obama's health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius immediately will face a host of difficult policy issues that touch the lives of every family.
Obama planned to introduce Sebelius, the Democrat governor of Kansas, on Monday as his nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department. The announcement would come before the president this week hosts lawmakers of both parties and representatives of major interest groups, from insurers to drug companies to consumers, at a White House summit on health care reform.
If confirmed by the Senate, Sebelius will play a leading role in Obama's ambitious effort to overhaul the health care system. But critical problems await her at the department, a vast bureaucracy that handles everything from Medicare to cancer research and to food safety.
The recession has taken its toll on Medicare, which provides health care for older people and the disabled. Plunging tax revenues have weakened the program's giant hospital fund, accelerating its projected insolvency to as early as 2016, only five years after the first baby boomers start signing up for services.
The Food and Drug Administration, meantime, is reeling from a seemingly endless series of safety lapses.
Sebelius, 60, is seen as a steady hand, an experienced public official who knows how to work across political lines and is unfazed by the complexities of health care and insurance issues. But she represents Obama's backup plan.
Originally, the president had counted on former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to shepherd his health overhaul agenda through Congress.
Daschle would have worn two hats: health secretary and head of a White House health reform office. He was on a first-name basis with most senators, where health care legislation faces its stiffest test.
Sebelius knows some of the key players, but will have to establish a working relationship with others. Obama plans to name a different person for the White House health care job, raising the prospect of tensions between that office and the health secretary's.
Prospects for Sebelius' confirmation appear to be good, although she faces sharp criticism from abortion opponents who clashed with her in Kansas. Kansas' two senators, both Republicans, offered words of praise.
"Obviously we will have different viewpoints than the administration on many issues including health care reform, especially given the huge price tag," said Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback. But despite "real concerns" about Obama's direction, they said they looked forward to being able to pick up the phone and talk directly with Sebelius about health care issues.
The health insurance industry and consumer groups have also responded favorably to Sebelius, a former state insurance commissioner.
Obama made his opening move on a health care overhaul last week with his speech to Congress and a budget that set aside $634 billion over 10 years as a down payment on coverage for all — a goal that could ultimately cost $1 trillion or more. Now Congress will have to take the initiative.
Obama outlined some general policies, such as putting the country on a path to cover all its citizens and preserving the employer role in providing health insurance. His budget also showed it will take tough choices on spending cuts and tax increases to pay for health care.
But it will be up to Congress to turn those ideas into workable legislation. Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, the Finance Committee chairman, and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who leads the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, say they want to present legislation by the summer.
Before health care legislation gets moving, Sebelius' attention may well be diverted by problems at the department. The administration will have to move quickly to name an FDA commissioner, a decision delayed by the difficulty in filling the health secretary's job. A trustees' report due in the spring is expected to highlight the worsening condition of Medicare's finances.
HHS has some 65,000 employees and a budget of more than $700 billion a year. It oversees Medicare benefits as well as Medicaid, the federal-state program serving the poor. It also is a responsible for the nation's front-line scientific defenses against disease and bioterrorism, as well as for research into causes and cures for cancer and other illnesses.
Medicare is considered a foundation of the nation's $2.4 trillion health care system because many private insurance plans use its policies as a guide. It suffers from runaway costs and questionable quality, problems that plague the rest of the system. Some experts estimate that 30 percent or more of Medicare spending may be for services that provide little or no value to patients.
Obama wants to expand coverage while slowing the rate of increase in costs. Administration officials say they are hoping that in the end that will lead to a more affordable system, without the coverage gaps that leave an estimated 48 million people uninsured.
Posted by: Andrea | March 01, 2009 at 11:56 AM
Abortion and vaccine-induced autism... hmmm.... People protesting the widespread use of a legal medical procedure, the results of which they consider inhumane. One obvious difference is that abortion always has a negative effect on the child. With vaccines, the odds are better -- but with so many MDs, RNs and MPHs in denial, for how long?
Posted by: nhokkanen | February 20, 2009 at 08:11 PM
Abortion? That has nothing to do with Sebelius's stance on autism.
Posted by: Jake Crosby | February 20, 2009 at 02:21 PM
Folks, I hate to bring up the other "A" word. But you need to know that there has been a battle in Kansas re. the subject of abortion, particularly the term variety. And she has been on the wrong side of the issue. If she has no problem supporting an abortionist who boasts about running clinics in Kansas that regularly snuffs out the life of a child that is almost born via a very cruel procedure, then how can we have any hope of our already-born children being valued by the same politician.
Before some of you completely roll your eyes, check out Worldnetdaily website columnist Jack Cashill for more about the Kansas Gov and her support for a late term abortionist. Just as there is a connection betw vaccines/environment and autism, there is a link betw sanctity of life issues and the politics of autism issues.
Posted by: A prolife father of an autistic child against Sebelius | February 20, 2009 at 12:01 AM
Change we can believe in? PLUEEZ
Posted by: Kathy Blanco | February 19, 2009 at 08:33 PM
I don't know where else to put this but since there is an inter-agency austim group, can't all the varied parties pool their money to come up with the vacc/unvacc study. I'm not saying that this is the case, but this is certainly no time to be "territorial" about the study. Wouldn't it just be the best thing to pool all the monies, along with ARI's effort to get this study done- SOON? Am I missing something?
Posted by: jen | February 19, 2009 at 06:35 PM
Garbo, Be careful what you wish for (as someone here once told me)... Things can always get worse. Our job is to try to make sure that doesn't happen.
Posted by: ObjectiveAutismDad | February 19, 2009 at 03:41 PM
I don't think it's going to matter who takes the reigns. Nobody can be any worse than the people who've been in charge, and nobody is going to come in guns blazing to change the deeply entrenched vaccine program. What's going to make a difference is continued pressure from parents and continued scientific discovery that makes the vaccine/autism connection clear. The only difference might be in how transparently the department will operate, and how open they will be about releasing documents that have heretofore been kept under lock and key.
Posted by: Garbo | February 19, 2009 at 02:23 PM
I come not to praise or bury Sebilius, just to add to the database. Here is Think Progress's write up on her and heathcare:
While Sebelius certainly lacks Tom Daschle’s connections to Obama’s health team (and greater Washington), she is no stranger to the club. As a member of the National Governors Association’s executive committee, Sebelius led the health-care portion of the December 2 meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden and has promoted the health care provisions in the stimulus. According to the AP, Sebelius has even budgeted “a small part of its federal stimulus money” to “add about 8,000 kids to the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program.”
In fact, a review of Sebelius’ record suggests that she’s a practical proponent of Obama’s health principles, willing to pursue, promote and defend comprehensive reform, despite political opposition.
As Insurance Commissioner for Kansas from 1994 to 2002, Sebelius refused to accept contributions from the insurance industry and blocked a merger between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas and Anthem, an Indiana insurer. The merger “drew opposition from many Kansas doctors, hospitals and nurses, as well as an advocacy group for poor and working-class families” and would have increased premiums “by $248 million over fiver years.” [Associated Press, 6/11/02] Sebelius, however, “turned the office of the Insurance Commissioner into an activist regulator, pursuing HMOs who denied care and pushing for cheaper prescription drugs for seniors.”
Sebelius continued to promote health care reform in the governor’s office, focusing primarily on cost containment. To improve efficiency, Sebelius ordered that all of the state’s major health care programs, including Medicaid, be “streamlined into a new business division called the Kansas Health Policy Authority” and launched the HealthyKansas initiative to promote prevention and wellness initiatives.
Moreover, the Governor’s Health Care Cost Containment Commission pursued many of the health care ideas incorporated into the stimulus. The commission included “representatives of the health care provider community, business community, health plans, legislators and other stakeholders in the health care community” and developed strategies to reduce unnecessary administrative costs and facilitate the adoption of a state-wide health information technology and exchange system.
The group explored ways to establish an “interoperable health information exchange,” created task-force to develop state-wide standards for health insurance ID cards, and formed a public-private partnership to plan and implement “a health information infrastructure capable of accurately and efficiently recording and tracking all aspects of health care delivery and payment.”
It wasn’t until January 2007, however, that Sebelius made a coordinated public push towards expanding health coverage for children under five. “We must commit ourselves to the goal that all Kansans will have health insurance and we must begin now,” Sebelius said during her State of the State address. “My budget takes an important step toward achieving that goal by making sure every young Kansas child has health coverage.”
While the effort ultimately failed, Sebelius’ decision to pursue expansion in the political jungles of Kansasian conservatism, suggests that the governor is more than capable (and willing) to fight the uphill battle for health reform. All in all, her ability to reach health policy decisions by soliciting the views of a broad spectrum of stakeholders suggests that she’ll be an important player in promoting Obama’s health reform agenda and a strong consensus builder.
Posted by: David Taylor | February 19, 2009 at 01:13 PM
I wonder how much Big Pharma's influence is affecting the HHS nomination?
Notice how Daschle all of a sudden gets audited after the horrible crime of listening to parents of children with autism.
And now that Daschle is out of the way, the next candidate has a bias against the vaccine-autism connection...
Posted by: CM | February 19, 2009 at 01:04 PM
Oh no! Just saw the news and he DID pick her.Now all we can hope is that she didn't pay her taxes or that she has a maid without a green card.
Posted by: Maurine Meleck | February 19, 2009 at 12:54 PM
I agree with Pamela.
Will opposition to this candidate be our next action alert?
Posted by: Terri Lewis | February 19, 2009 at 12:51 PM
This is change we can do without. Pro-abortion.
Posted by: friend of Toto | February 19, 2009 at 11:11 AM
Thank you for the heads up, Jake.
So I take it that not much has changed since Bobbie Manning and others met with Sebelius's staff in '03?
What a huge disappointment that would be after having Tom Daschle-- with or without his lousy tax accountant-- dangled in front of us.
If Sebellius is installed, the only hope is that Obama a) has some unspoken positive intent for our concerns and that b) he'll go on controlling his staff as well as he did during the campaign.
Sigh. Is Dean even clearly on our side? Who would we really want in this post if we could make a wish on it?
Posted by: Gatogorra | February 19, 2009 at 10:58 AM
Thanks Jake for alerting us about Sebelius.
I saw this on Huff post today.
This was posted 2/9 and has over 2195 comments. I think as a community we should be actively promoting or not promoting a potential nominee. This is too important of a appointment for us to not at least attempt to be heard.
Seems like the ND's vigorously worked to get RFK JR. Knocked off the list of potential nominees.
I know Howard Dean was in the running at one point. Is he still?
Posted by: Andrea | February 19, 2009 at 10:41 AM
Shall opposition to this nominee be our next AAN Action Alert?
Posted by: Pamela | February 19, 2009 at 10:37 AM
Kansas, the state where tax refunds are being withheld for lack of funds? The state about which Thomas Franks wrote. "What's the Matter With Kansas?" after they voted for conservative issues and against their pocketbooks for several elections in a row - thus ensuring their fiscal demise? Great, two gay men can't get married. Happy? I'll be you miss that tax refund though.
Posted by: Tornadon't | February 19, 2009 at 10:30 AM
Not only what you have written, but her state is going under financially. Let's hope Obama doesn't name her. maybe we can have a call in comapign.
Posted by: Maurine Meleck | February 19, 2009 at 10:24 AM
Scary. How could someone NOT be concerned about puttng poisonous mercury into the human body.
Posted by: maggie | February 19, 2009 at 09:55 AM