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Obama taps Kansas governor for health secretary

WASHINGTON, March 1 – US President Barack Obama has tapped Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be his health secretary to carry out his ambitious healthcare reform program, the White House said.

A senior administration official told AFP Saturday that Sebelius had accepted the offer to serve as secretary of health and human services — a position Obama had first offered to former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who withdrew over tax questions.

Obama will make the announcement Monday at the White House, the official said.

The 60-year-old governor, a rising star of the Democratic Party, was an early supporter of Obama’s presidential bid. She was also said to be in the running for vice president.

She served as Kansas insurance commissioner for nearly a decade before taking office as governor in 2003. She is currently serving her second term.

Her nomination came just days after Obama unveiled his budget for 2010, in which he allocated 634 billion dollars over 10 years to finance reforms to make health coverage more affordable and move the country toward universal coverage.

Obama is to hold a bipartisan summit on Thursday for policymakers and legislators to discuss reforms to repair the nation’s ailing healthcare system.

Daschle withdrew his nomination in early February after revealing that he had failed to pay some 140,000 dollars in back taxes and interest

An early supporter of Obama’s presidential bid, Sebelius had been discussed for a slew of positions, from cabinet posts to vice president.

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As health secretary, her first foray onto the national stage, she will be charged with shepherding healthcare reform legislation through Congress, in line with Obama’s campaign vow to revamp the US medical system and help over 45 million Americans lacking health insurance.

Her nomination came just days after Obama unveiled his budget for 2010, in which he allocated 634 billion dollars over 10 years to health care reform. Obama on Thursday will hold a bipartisan summit to discuss how the improve the healthcare system.

Sebelius’ father was an Ohio governor and her father-in-law was a Republican lawmaker from Kansas.

As insurance commissioner, she blocked the sale of a state private insurance program to a for-profit group in an effort to prevent rates from rising. She also helped draft a national bill of rights plan for patients.

"We know that we’re stronger as a nation when our people have access to the highest quality, most affordable healthcare, when our businesses can compete in the global marketplace without the burden of rising healthcare costs here at home," Sebelius said in January 2008.

The Democratic president made healthcare reform a major campaign plank and one of his first acts in office was to sign into law expanded healthcare coverage for low-income children.

Sebelius, a former president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has described universal health insurance coverage for children in the United States as the "first step in overhauling our healthcare system."

A Roman Catholic, she personally opposes abortion but supports abortion rights.

When she vetoed legislation requiring abortion clinics to disclose the reasons for late-term abortions, Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann said she should stop receiving communion until she publicly repudiated her pro-abortion stance.

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