Sebelius gets in the game

SEBELIUS GETS IN THE GAME…. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has spent much of her time lately behind the scenes, taking steps to help implement the Affordable Care Act. But this week, her profile is a little higher than usual.

Sebelius has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, for example, responding to some recent attacks from the far-right.

In the last two weeks, my department has been accused of “thuggery” (this editorial page) and “Soviet tyranny” (Newt Gingrich). What prompted these accusations? The fact that we told health-insurance companies that, as required by law, we will review large premium increases and identify those that are unreasonable.

There’s a long history of special interests using similar attacks to oppose change. In the mid-1960s, for example, some claimed Medicare would put our country on the path to socialism.

But what is really objectionable about these comments is not who they’re attacking, but what they’re defending. These critics seem to believe that any oversight of the insurance industry is too much, and that consumers would be better off in a system where they have few rights or protections.

Lately, it’s been reminiscent of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologizing to BP at the height of the oil spill crisis. As Sebelius and other administration officials have been standing up to insurance companies, trying to keep premiums lower and get more families covered, Republicans have been standing up for insurers, demanding that the administration stop working so hard for the public.

It’s good to see Sebelius offer a fairly high-profile response to the GOP criticism.

Also this week, the HHS Secretary took a rather direct shot at extremist Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s public remarks about health coverage for children with autism.

“It is my understanding that Sharron Angle believes that there is a hoax, under the guise of autism, where you would include requests for treatments that may not even be required,” said Sebelius, who was in Nevada promoting health care reform with Harry Reid.

Sebelius pounded Angle’s comments as “insulting” to parents and kids, adding: “I don’t know if there is any place in the country where the differences in the candidates are more stark than here.”

In case it matters, I should note that cabinet secretaries getting engaged in the political process isn’t especially unusual. In Bush’s first term, the failed former president sent most of his cabinet out on the road, making campaign appearances in support of vulnerable GOP incumbents. They even broke new ground — we’d never seen a Defense Secretary get involved in campaign politics before, but in advance of the 2004 race, Donald Rumsfeld, while avoiding Pentagon reporters, did 10 radio interviews in eight weeks, all with far-right hosts in battleground states.

So there’s certainly nothing wrong with Sebelius taking a strong case to the public before the midterms.