Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who led the government’s troubled rollout of the 2010 health-care law, will step down, her spokeswoman confirmed Thursday, capping a rocky five years in the Obama cabinet.
President Barack Obama was expected to announce on Friday that Mrs. Sebelius, 65 years old, will be succeeded by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, according to senior administration officials.
Mrs. Sebelius’s departure came after months of speculation that she would resign over the shaky implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A wave of technical problems initially prevented consumers from buying insurance plans on HealthCare.gov, while millions of Americans had their plans canceled because they didn’t meet the law’s requirements.
The fallout became one of the greatest political liabilities of Mr. Obama’s presidency and is expected to shape November’s midterm elections.
Mrs. Sebelius appeared to be moving past that rough patch in recent weeks as insurance enrollments surged. On Thursday, she told lawmakers the administration believed at least 7.5 million people had picked plans through HealthCare.gov and similar state-run exchanges to date. That number exceeded prior enrollment projections.
She informed Mr. Obama in early March of her decision to resign, a White House official said. “At that time, Secretary Sebelius told the president that she felt confident in the trajectory for enrollment and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and that she believed that once open enrollment ended it would be the right time to transition the department to new leadership,” the official said.
“As she closes this chapter, Secretary Sebelius is extremely thankful to President Obama and very proud of the historic accomplishments of this Administration,” said Dori Salcido, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, in a statement.
Mrs. Sebelius came to Washington in 2009 for the HHS job as a popular Democratic governor of Kansas, who had previously served as her state’s insurance commissioner. When Mr. Obama signed the Affordable Care Act the next year, she was tasked with overseeing the biggest change to the U.S. health system in decades. The law aimed to provide near-universal health insurance coverage to Americans and end the practice of insurance companies denying policies based on consumers’ medical history.
Mrs. Sebelius traveled the country championing the popular parts of the law, such as lower drug prices for seniors and children who could stay on their parents’ health plan until their 26th birthday. But when the centerpiece of the law—the new federal insurance marketplace—lurched through its launch this fall, she became the most high-profile figure associated with the problems.