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Sebelius says she told Obama staying 'wasn't an option'

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about issues an
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about issues an

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who resigned last week, says she made the decision to leave and told President Barack Obama last month that staying on "wasn't an option".

In her first interview since the White House announced her resignation as the president's top healthcare adviser, Sebelius told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that she and Obama first spoke about her future after Obamacare enrollment began to show signs of recovering from its disastrous October 1 launch.

"The president and I began to talk after the first of the year, and I went back to him in early March," Sebelius said. "I made it pretty clear that it really wasn't an option to stay on."

Sebelius was responding to speculation that the White House may have forced her resignation in a bid to open a new chapter for Obama's signature domestic policy achievement ahead of November's election battle for control of Congress during the final years of the Obama presidency.

On Friday, Obama nominated his budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to succeed Sebelius in a move that analysts say would tighten White House control of the Obamacare issue as the political calendar heads into the thick of the campaign season.

As the public face for the law's rocky implementation, Sebelius said the March 31 end of open enrollment was the logical time to leave the job.

"I thought it was fair to either commit to January 2017 or leave with enough time that he would get a strong, competent leader," Sebelius said. "That really wasn't a commitment I was willing to make and he knew that."

When Sebelius and Obama spoke last month, she said enrollment was meeting its targets and the federal website HealthCare.gov was working after being paralyzed by technical glitches during the weeks that followed its debut last year.

Burwell must be confirmed by the Senate. Republicans, who hope to make the November election a referendum on Obamacare, are expected to use her confirmation hearings to showcase what they see as the law's failings.

But Sebelius' resignation comes at a high point for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. She announced last week that 7.5 million people have signed up for private health coverage under the law, far surpassing the most optimistic expectations.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Jim Loney and Sandra Maler)

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