Inside This Issue - News
Burwell confirmed as HHS chief
June 16th, 2014
WASHINGTON – In a bipartisan show of support, the Senate confirmed Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in a 78-17 vote.
Although all of the no votes were cast by Republicans, two dozen members of the GOP joined with 52 Democrats and two independents in supporting the confirmation of the 48-year-old Burwell, who was the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget since April of last year. Earlier Burwell had served as the president of the Walmart Foundation.
White House officials said Obama selected Burwell because he wanted a proven manager to carry out the Affordable Care Act, which got off to a rocky start under previous health secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who resigned from the post in April.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.) enthusiastically supported Burwell, saying that she had brought “a more businesslike approach” to the White House budget office and would do the same at HHS.
Burwell, who earlier worked for President Clinton on the National Economic Council and in the Treasury Department, sailed through confirmation hearings before two Senate committees, impressing lawmakers with promises to be candid and cooperative in working with Congress.
Her immediate task is to defend the health care reform law, a target of Republicans in many of this year’s midterm election campaigns.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that Burwell was, by most accounts, a smart and skilled public servant.
But he noted that, as secretary of health, “she would be the chief operating officer of Obamacare implementation, a law that’s doing incredible damage to middle-class families. Her embrace of this disastrous law is reason enough to oppose her confirmation.”
In her role as HHS secretary, Burwell will also be responsible for Medicare and Medicaid, which insure more than 100 million Americans; the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest biomedical research agency; and the Food and Drug Administration, whose decisions affect virtually every American on a daily basis.
Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which recommended Burwell to the full Senate, said she attracted what he called “a choir of bipartisan support” because “she is really that good, she is really that capable and she is really that qualified.”
Although the White House and federal health officials are pleased that the first six-month sign-up period with new insurance marketplaces overcame a troubled start, health policy specialists note that much work remains to put the ACA into practice.
Officials also continue to wrestle with HealthCare.gov, the website for the federal health insurance exchange. Some aspects of the site’s system are not yet working or are not built, including parts designed to handle enrollment records, enable the direct enrollment of people who qualify for the Medicaid program, and allow the online enrollment of small businesses.