Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Kathleen Sebelius (2009-2014): Secretary of Health and Human Services

Kathleen Sebelius was born into a political family on May 15, 1948, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father, John Gilligan, was governor of Ohio from 1971 to 1975. She attended Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., and then married Gary Sebelius and moved with him to his home state of Kansas. Her father-in-law, Keith Sebelius, was a U.S. Representative from Kansas from 1969 to 1981. Kathleen Sebelius earned a master's in public administration from the University of Kansas in 1977.

She began her career as a lobbyist for the Kansas Trial Lawyer Association and then served in the Kansas state legislature from 1987 to 1994. She left elected office to become the Kansas' insurance commissioner. In 2002, she was elected governor of Kansas and won reelection in 2006. Being a Democratic governor in a Republican-leaning state, Sebelius gained a reputation of working across the partisan divide and reaching compromises with Republicans. She focused on improving education in Kansas, reducing the state's budget deficit, and expanding health care coverage, especially for children. She was chosen to give the Democratic response to President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address in 2008, an honor usually given to politicians who are considered rising stars in the Democratic Party.

Sebelius was an early supporter of Barack Obama as he began his run for the presidency. Obama chose her as secretary of Health and Human Services after his first choice, Thomas Daschle, stepped down because of unpaid taxes. Sebelius was sworn in on April 29, 2009. With President Barack Obama hoping to overhaul the country's health care system, Sebelius was expected to play a role in its legislative proposal and implementation.

After President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, Secretary Sebelius and her department were responsible for overseeing the roll out of the legislation's provisions. When enrollment in the Affordable Care Act was opened to the public, there were numerous problems including website glitches and functional issues, and Secretary Sebelius was held responsible by some for the problems. In 2014, Sebelius resigned as secretary of Health and Human Services.