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Obama Picks Midwest Governor For Key Health Post

U.S. President Barack Obama has picked a governor from the American Midwest to head the Department of Health and Human Services-Kathleen Sebelius - his second pick for the post.

This is one of the most important posts in the federal government - responsible for programs that affect the everyday lives of millions of Americans.

They range from food safety to cancer research…from child and domestic abuse prevention to the massive government endeavors to subsidize health care for the elderly and the poor.

In the best of times, the Health and Human Services secretary has a big portfolio. But President Obama is adding on a daunting task: overseeing a complete overhaul of the nation's health care system.

He says Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is the person who can get it done.

"As a governor, she has been on the front lines of our health care crisis. She has a deep knowledge of what the burden of crushing costs does to our families and businesses," said the president.

The health care crisis in the United States is a matter of both affordability and accessibility.

Medical costs are skyrocketing. And for many Americans, health insurance - once routinely provided by employers - is proving difficult to obtain.

President Obama says it is a crisis that must be resolved.

"It is a crisis punishing families, battering businesses, squeezing our states and increasingly imperiling our own budget. Health care is one of the fastest growing expenses in the federal budget, and it is one we simply cannot sustain," he said.

Mr. Obama is convening a White House forum on Thursday that will bring together lawmakers, consumers, health care providers and insurers to start the search for a solution.

The president has said his hope is to get reform legislation through Congress this year. And he says Kathleen Sebelius - with her years of experience as a Democratic governor of a heavily Republican state - can help bring all sides together.

"Time and again, on energy and education and jobs and health care, she has bridged the partisan divide and worked with a Republican legislature to get things done for the people of Kansas," the president said.

At one point during the 2008 campaign, Governor Sebelius was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. After the election, she said she had no interest in a Cabinet post.

She changed her mind after the president's first choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services - former Senate Democratic Party leader Tom Daschle - withdrew due to tax problems.

"The president's request that I lead the department charged with protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential services to some of our most vulnerable citizens is a responsibility I could not refuse," she said.

In addition to Governor Sebelius, President Obama has named an expert on health care and regulatory reform to lead a new Office for Health Reform at the White House. Nancy-Ann DeParle worked on health care and budget issues in the Clinton administration.