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Kathleen Sebelius

Kathleen Sebelius

  • Power 50 Ranking: 50
  • Title: Secretary
  • Agency: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Key Developments: Response to outbreak of H1N1 virus, execute food safety and health care initiatives.
  • What's Next: Passage of a health care reform bill.

Kathleen Sebelius

There is urgency in her message of health care reform. The mission is simple: Protect the health of the American people and provide essential human services. In carrying out her mission, Kathleen Sebelius, who was sworn in as the 21st secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in April, has the power to impact the food industry in areas of food safety and health care policy mandates.

Last week she was highly visible in the media supporting President Obama’s No. 1 priority as the House and Senate unveiled measures to boost health insurance coverage for most Americans. Those measures involve employer mandates that may strain businesses, particularly small businesses. “Health care reform is long overdue. Inaction is not an option,” she told CNN.

She presides over a 2010 budget of $879 billion that will be invested to help bring health care costs down and improve access to quality care.

So far during her short tenure, Sebelius moved quickly to declare a public health emergency as swine flu broke out this spring. As a result, the Food Marketing Institute postponed its Future Connect Conference in Dallas. The department is gearing up for a possible spike in H1N1 flu this fall and is testing a vaccine. The department will also oversee implementation of health information technology — electronic health records.

HHS led investigations resulting in Medco, the nation’s largest mail order pharmacy, to improve its services to non-English speaking members by expanding bilingual customer services, and CVS Caremark agreed to pay the government $2.25 million and take action to ensure it does not violate the privacy of millions of patients when disposing of patient information such as information on pill bottle

Sebelius also heads up the Food Safety Working Group with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to upgrade the nation’s food safety system to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness. “Families have enough to worry about. You shouldn’t have to wonder if the food you buy at the grocery store is safe,” she said.

“We fully support the extensive effort by the White House Food Safety Working Group to launch new and improved safety standards to protect Americans,” said Leslie Sarasin, FMI president and chief executive officer.

— Christina Veiders