A Conversation with Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services


Kathleen Sebelius was the 21st Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Before her Cabinet appointment in April, 2009, she served as Governor of Kansas beginning in 2003, where she was named one of America’s Top Five Governors by Time Magazine. From 1995 to 2003, she served as Kansas Insurance Commissioner. She was a member of the Kansas House of Representatives from 1987 to 1995. Forbes has named Secretary Sebelius one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.

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Presented in Collaboration with Reuters

Background Articles

Image Credit: Image of Secretary Sebelius courtesy of HHS.

  • abeart AJ

    I am glad to read this headline, I hope the development of the health of the world is increasing handled by people who have the qualities and capabilities in them. I hope your work brings benefits.

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    Can you comment on the impact of the current, re-instated ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchange, both domestically and abroad. In addition, are there any plans on the part of the administration to work on this situation?
    Thank you
    Jody Rich

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health


    Dear Madame Secretary:

    As a television producer who has generated a fair share of medical programming for PBS, Discovery Networks, etc., I thought I knew something about cancer. However, when my girlfriend and soulmate was diagnosed with cancer, and passed away less than two years later, I realized there was a great deal I didn’t know. For instance, I was shocked to learn that we only invest $5 billion a year in cancer research with the NCI. Or less than 2000th of 1 percent of what the federal government spends each year! Even though cancer kills 565,000 Americans a year, 1 in 3 Americans will be diagnosed with it in their lifetimes, and it costs the U.S economy roughly $230 billion a year in lost productivity and health care costs. And yet, we only invest $5 billion a year in federally funded basic research to fight this horrible disease?!?

    I’m developing a documentary examining biomedical research and what might happen if we invested more in the NIH. What I’ve learned is that a great deal of wonderful things would happen. It’s good medicine and good public policy, not to mention a powerful economic engine. So my question is, why doesn’t the Administration and Congress find more funding for the NIH, given the enormous societal and economic benefits such investment would produce? Why aren’t you shouting that message to the skies? I mean we’re spending almost $4 trillion a year as a federal government and we can only find a measly $32 billion to research and combat every known disease, of which only $5 billion goes to the NCI?!?

    How do we change that mindset in Washington, DC?

    Sincerely, Joseph Jabaly, Miami

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    Hi Madame Secretary,
    I am seriously considering a new career as a health advocate. Is there a place I can go that consolidates all online healthcare advocacy programs. I live in a dense senior citizen area. But it is remote and I would have to obtain a degree online. I have a Masters degree. And have had two wonderful careers up to this point.
    Thank you,
    Nancy in CT

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    Is it true that 1) Medicare Advantage providers will not have to submit to the 85/15% ratio, 2) that those with Medicare Advantage will not be able, in the future to switch to regular Medicare?
    Judith Parker
    Consultant, Field Mobilization
    MO Alliance for Retired Americans

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    This is not a question, it is a statement. Smoking should be banned in all National Parks to preserve the national health. It will also help prevent fires that take many lives and precious natural resources.
    Susan Anderson

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health


    Secretary Sebelius:

    The Massachusetts experience is that universal health coverage administered to through private insurers results in dramatic rises in healthcare premiums for the middle class, which many consider to be a hidden tax. Given that insurance premiums are already rising in anticipation of the implementation of the ACA, how will this federal program be different? And, in truth, didn’t the Obama administration’s abandonment of the Government Option turn Obamacare into a huge gift for the insurance industry at the expense of the middle class?

    Ron L. Alterman, MD
    Chief, Division of Neurosurgery
    Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

  • Dolores Skowronek

    Secretary Sebelius,

    I am a health science librarian by profession and am very familiar with published research on adolescent sleep patterns and the impact of early high school start times and sleep loss on a teenager’s health, safety, and academics.

    I am also the parent of two teenagers and am very concerned about current trends to set high school start times very early in the day. My sons’ high school starts at 7:10am and first bus pick is 6:06am. We are not alone – schools through out the United States set very early bell schedules and it impacts the health and well-being of countless children nationwide.

    I am often times told that setting early bell schedules is a local problem – but I disagree. Considering how difficult it is to change local policy, I believe this is a national public health issue. What is your perspective?

    Thank you. I am on the executive committee of Start School Later and would appreciate if you could review this issue.

    Dolores Skowronek, MLIS
    Start School Later

  • Donna Carey, M.D.

    There are still enormous health disparities within our society – from rates of cancer screening to rates of antibiotics prescribed. Additionally within the same communities that these disparities exist, there is also a shortage of providers. The CDC estimated that we could save $63 billion per year in healthcare costs if we closed the health disparity gaps. What are your thoughts?

  • Josh Archambault

    Madame Secretary,
    Can you speak about the progress of implementation of the federal exchange(s)? How will you finance them, and how far along are you in developing the technology of the data hub that is required by law? Will they be ready in time?

    Do you see a difference between insurance and prepaid medical care in the form of generous insurance?

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    Since the theme of today is decision-making, I was hoping you could provide some insight regarding your decision to overrule the FDA and require a prescription for women under 17 to get access to Plan B. What stakeholders and interests did you have to balance? Why did you choose the age 17 – was that based on the best public health science at the time? Could you tell us if the administration is planning to appeal the recent ruling by a federal judge that overturned your decision?
    David Havelick

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    I wonder if she can speak about the progress on the federal health exchanges, and how they plan to finance them, and if the data hub required by law will be ready? What is the Plan B if they are not ready?

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    We are gathering information for a needle exchange program. Is it possible to ask Sec. Sebelius about the success she’s seen with similar programs?

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    with regards to ACA, are there any policies specifically related to preventive health measures in maternal health and pediatric health?
    Also,any policies that would support research into better pediatric health outcomes?

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