Meet Nancy-Ann Min DeParle

MEET NANCY-ANN MIN DEPARLE…. As expected, President Obama nominated Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) this afternoon to head the Department of Health and Human Services. For all the reasons we talked about over the weekend, this strikes me as an encouraging move.

Sebelius will not, however, be stepping into the role envisioned for Tom Daschle. This morning, the president also introduced Nancy-Ann DeParle, who will serve as Counselor to the President and Director of the White House Office for Health Reform.

DeParle, a Rhodes scholar and Harvard Law School grad, is coming to the White House from the business world, but she has a real background in healthcare policy. She managed Tennessee’s Medicaid program, and caught the eye of the Clinton administration, who brought her to D.C. to run the OMB’s healthcare team, and later, the Health Care Financing Administration.

Jonathan Cohn argues today that as important as Sebelius will be, DeParle’s role is “likely to be even more important” when it comes to “crafting a reform plan and then enacting it.”

As you may have guessed from this sketch, DeParle is smart–rocket scientist, brain surgeon, 1600 SAT smart. And she knows as much about health policy as anybody you’ll encounter in Washington. (I can attest to this personally, having interviewed her a few times.)

But DeParle also gets high marks for her political sense. She knows her way around Washington and, by all accounts, should be able to integrate herself within the White House policy operation easily. “She will complement Gov. Sebelius well, though her experience at the White House, with [HCFA], and on the Hill,” says Chris Jennings, who served as chief White House health policy advisor during the latter years of the Clinton Administration. “And she will do so as a team player.”

Despite her career-long identification with Democrats, DeParle has strong credibility with Republicans. (Representative Bill Thomas, of all people, was known to be a fan.) And, no less important for Obama, she’s popular with centrist Democrats who could–if they wanted–make health care reform difficult. “Nancy-Ann DeParle has years of experience overseeing complex health care systems at both the state and federal level, and she knows firsthand the problems Americans face trying to get coverage,” says Representative Jim Cooper, the Tennesse Democrat. “Nancy-Ann will be a great asset to the President as he leads the effort to reform health care.”

DeParle knows the issue inside and out; she has broad credibility with the relevant players; she knows politics; has a reputation for integrity; and she’s committed to a reform effort that covers everyone.

Sounds good to me. Get to work.