Sebelius: I Never Spoke to Obama About Health Post

WASHINGTON -- Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, mentioned as a top candidate for health secretary, said Sunday she has not talked with President Barack Obama about joining his Cabinet.

"There really isn't anything to tell. I haven't had any meetings about the position," Sebelius, 60, said in an interview with The Associated Press during the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

Pressed on whether she had spoken to Obama about heading the Health and Human Services Department, Sebelius said, "I have not."

Sebelius's name surfaced when former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Obama's first choice for health secretary, withdrew after disclosing he had failed to pay $140,000 in taxes and interest.

Sebelius was an early Obama backer during the Democratic primary contest and a frequent surrogate to women's groups. She was a finalist for Obama's running mate and was mentioned as a Cabinet possibility after the election but withdrew from consideration in December, citing Kansas' budget problems.

Administration aides say no decision has been made about filling the health post and they continue to review candidates. Sebelius remains near the top of the administration's list, but aides are using extreme caution to avoid yet another embarrassing mistake.

Sebelius served as state insurance commissioner before being elected governor in 2002. Under her leadership the state has expanded cancer screenings, allowed more residents to keep their health insurance up to 18 months after leaving their jobs and granted income tax deductions to help some lower their insurance costs.

Still, many of her health care reform efforts have been thwarted by the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature. In the interview, the Democratic governor defended her record and said that despite some setbacks, she had been able to make several improvements to the state's health care system.

"I think we've made a lot of heath care progress across the board," she said, citing advances in health information technology, childhood obesity reduction and care for older people.

But, she acknowledged, "We haven't gone as far as I would like in expanded coverage. I'd like to move farther to cover more Kansans."

Sebelius has been mentioned as a top Senate prospect in 2010, when Republican Sam Brownback steps down. She deflected a question about the Senate race, saying she loves being governor.

"You know, everybody has lots of plans for me," Sebelius said, laughing.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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