Kitzhaber doesn't want HHS post - but does Ron Wyden?

Kitzhaber doesn't want HHS post - but does Ron Wyden?

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said Wednesday he's not interested in a holding a cabinet-level post in the Obama administration, despite renewed speculation that he's in the running for such a spot.

But he says he wouldn't mind serving as a high-level health policy adviser of some sort to the new president.

Kitzhaber's name resurfaced as a potential pick for secretary of health and human services after former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for that position Tuesday, citing the distraction of his delinquent tax payments.

Another name that has been brought up is Sen. Ron Wyden. The Oregon Democrat sponsored the Healthy Americans Act, which would replace the current employer-based health insurance system with one in which the government requires, subsidizes and oversees private plans that individuals select.

In an interview with The Oregonian newspaper, Wyden spokeswoman Jennifer Hoelzer did not rule out her boss leaving the Senate.

Hoelzer said that while Wyden "has a wonderful job representing the people of Oregon," he "knows President Obama is committed to achieving health reform, and he will help in any way that he can."

Kitzhaber, meanwhile, said he doesn't want to be in charge of managing a big department like health and human services.

"I'm not convinced that being the administrator of that agency provides the best forum for serious reform of our health care system," Kitzhaber said.

The former emergency room physician said he'd be open to serving as an adviser to Obama.

"I have no idea exactly what that job would look like," he said. "But I do believe the wheels are coming off the health care system, and I want to help the Obama administration reframe its approach to this pressing problem."

Kitzhaber first was mentioned as a potential Cabinet pick in early December. He was rumored to be possible candidate for interior secretary as well as the health and human services post.

At the time, Kitzhaber said it was "extremely doubtful" he'd be picked. He said he would be reluctant to move to Washington, D.C., full-time because he did not want to relocate his 11-year-old son, Logan.

As a state senator, Kitzhaber was widely credited with being the architect of the Oregon Health Plan, the state's landmark effort that extended health coverage to thousands of low-income people by limiting the medical services the state pays for.

In Wednesday's interview, Kitzhaber said he continues to advocate for a total overhaul of a health care system that's plagued with soaring costs and fails in its basic mission "to keep people healthy."

"We spend so much more per capita than any other nation on the face of the planet for health care, yet our population's health statistics lag far behind many other nations that spend a fraction of what we do," the former governor said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)