Sebelius expects challenge to health law

MANHATTAN — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius predicted Monday that the U.S. House will pass a bill to repeal the health care reform law but said she doubts the effort will clear the Senate or that a court challenge against the law will be successful.

The former two-term Kansas governor, who delivered a Landon Lecture Monday at Kansas State University, expressed confidence that the sweeping legislation she helped craft will remain the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately find the law's mandate for every American to have insurance is constitutional under the commerce clause, she said.

"This is a fairly novel point in law," Sebelius said.

Sebelius said she is used to working with Republicans and looks forward to working with the House and others to implement the new law. Republicans controlled both chambers of the Kansas Legislature during her administration.

"I've never worked with a Democratic majority until I got to Washington," she said. "We will actively engage with folks."

Sebelius said she has not spoken to Republican Gov.-elect Sam Brownback about the law or his opposition to it. Brownback has vowed to do the minimum as governor to implement the law and says he will resist changes as often as possible.

Brownback takes office in January after the retirement of Democrat Gov. Mark Parkinson, who replaced Sebelius in 2009 when she was appointed HHS secretary.

Kansas is likely to join other states in challenging the law. Republican Attorney General-elect Derek Schmidt is reviewing the law and has said his administration would file to join other litigation shortly after taking office in January.

But Sebelius said Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger has been involved in Washington in helping implement the law and the new regulations.

"Where Kansas will end up is a little hard to tell in the long run," Sebelius said of the effects of the law and its challenges.

The new federal health care law, along with slow economic growth, was a factor in the November election that saw Republicans take control of the U.S. House. The new GOP majority has vowed to send repeal legislation to the Senate and President Obama weekly until changes are made.

But Sebelius said the more Americans go beyond "cable news" descriptions of the law and learn what it means to them for coverage, more understand that there are good aspects worth considering.

"The conversation changes," she said.

Sebelius devoted much of her address to a crowd of about 400 at Kansas State to discussing the health care law and six areas of concentration, including cancer research, obesity, information technology and medical countermeasures to biological attack or pandemic disease outbreak.