The Revolving Door: Former US Secretary of Health and Human Services Joins Humacyte Board

Lambert here: Sebelius. And after the great job she did with the ObamaCare website launch, too. Ka-ching.

By Roy Poses, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University, and the President of FIRM – the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine. Cross posted from the Health Care Renewal website

The latest example of the health care revolving door was made barely public just before the US Labor Day holiday. Per the Triangle Business Journal,

Humacyte Inc., a biotechnology company based in Research Triangle Park, has beefed up its board of directors by adding former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and life sciences industry veteran Dale Sander.

The 11-year-old Humacyte develops novel human tissue-based investigational products that are being developed for potential commercialization for applications in regenerative medicine and vascular surgery. Sebelius adds a significant amount of heft to the company’s now eight-person board.

From 2009 to 2014, she served as the 21st Secretary of the HHS, leading the effort to pass and implement the Affordable Care Act. She’s also been named by Forbes as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.

Prior to serving as secretary of HHS, Sebelius served as governor of Kansas, two terms as the Kansas insurance commissioner and four terms in the Kansas legislature.

‘Secretary Sebelius is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished health care industry leaders of our time and we are honored to have her join our organization,’ said Carrie Cox, chair and chief executive officer of Humacyte, in a statement. ‘Her tenure in the public sector, and deep understanding of the rigors of the regulatory process and policy will provide unique perspective and insight to support our goals to improve care for Humacyte’s first application for patients with End Stage Renal Disease.’


I will just raise a tired, ironic eyebrow in response to a lawyer, politician, and government leader with no direct biomedical or health care training or experience, and no apparent health care industry experience being called a “distinguished health care industry leader.”

The big issue here is, of course, the revolving door.

It now seems that any randomly selected top US government official who has responsibilities directly related to health care could turn out to be a past or future health care corporate lobbyist, consultant, board member, or executive. The revolving door is now well established between the US government and the country’s huge and growing corporate health care sector. Recent (2015) examples include:

– a former Director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services who was a Columbia/ HCA executive and who became the CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (a trade and lobbying group) (look here)

– various officials involved trade agreements (that heavily affect health care) who came from or went to industry (look here).

– some US Food and Drug Administration officials who were involved in the lax regulation of amphetamines in “natural” products who came from or went to the “natural” supplements industry (look here).

Etc, etc, etc

But the latest example is a big one, since it involves the top US health care official, the Secretary of the DHHS.

As we have said endlessly, the ongoing and increasing revolving door phenomenon clearly suggests excess coziness between industry and government, now to the extent that industry and government leaders of health care are becoming interchangeable. This suggests that health care is increasingly run by this cozy ingroup, who very likely put their own interests ahead of those of patients and the public.

This is at best crony capitalism, and makes a mockery of that famous sentence in President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The revolving door is clearly a kind of conflict of interest. Government officials who can look forward to extremely lucrative employment in health care industry (regardless of their actual experience in health care or the health care industry) may be much more inclined to seem friendly to the industry while in office. Government officials who just came from industry are likely to maintain their industry mindset and be mindful of their industry friends.

Worse, some experts have suggested that the revolving door is in fact corruption. As we noted here, the experts from the distinguished European anti-corruption group U4 wrote,

The literature makes clear that the revolving door process is a source of valuable political connections for private firms. But it generates corruption risks and has strong distortionary effects on the economy, especially when this power is concentrated within a few firms.

Finally, the revolving door on its currently massive scale starts to look like corporatism (or corpocracy), “the organization of society by major interest groups.” One variant of corporatism prominent in the last century was fascism (on the model of Mussolini in Italy). Of course, many of us in the US ought to see corporatism as antithetical to how our government and society is supposed to function – supposed to function.

Thus, the revolving door in health care seems like it ought to bear scrutiny. Yet most examples of the revolving door are very anechoic, being noted mainly in the business media, and usually barely there. I have seen almost no notice of it in the health care, health policy, or medical literature. (For example, so far Ms Sebelius’ new job has appeared in a corporate press release and a single article in a local business newspaper, as far as I can tell.)

So once more with feeling… The continuing egregiousness of the revolving door in health care shows how health care leadership can play mutually beneficial games, regardless of the their effects on patients’ and the public’s health. Once again, true health care reform would cut the ties between government and corporate leaders that have lead to government of, for and by corporate executives rather than the people at large.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.