June 05, 2014
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Burwell confirmed as new HHS secretary

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Sylvia Mathews Burwell has been confirmed as the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services, replacing Kathleen Sebelius who submitted her resignation last month.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, welcomed her confirmation by the Senate, which passed with a vote of 78 to 17.

“Through a dynamic career in both public service and private sector leadership, Sylvia Burwell has proven herself as an effective manager with experience and skill in leading a wide range of organizations. During her confirmation hearing in the HELP Committee last month, she garnered strong support from Members on both sides of the aisle,” Harkin said in a press release.

Harkin also said Burwell will face many challenges.

“As Secretary, Ms. Burwell will shoulder incredibly important responsibilities that matter deeply to the health and wellness of the American people. I have no doubt that Ms. Burwell is up for the challenge, and I am pleased that she has been confirmed as our next HHS Secretary.”

Burwell will inherit the problems remaining after the very rocky rollout of the Affordable Care Act, also called “Obamacare” by both supporters and detractors.

Before her confirmation, HELP committee ranking member Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) offered five areas where he would like to see her focus her attention, including increasing transparency and working with Congress. 

“Show Americans some respect. That means: Don’t announce major policy changes in blog posts. And when Congress asks if you’re in trouble, don’t pretend everything is fine. If Secretary Sebelius had been upfront about the website problems before the rollout, we might have saved Americans precious time and money,” Alexander said in a press release.

Harkin took a different view. “Of course, Ms. Burwell will have the critical role of overseeing implementation of the Affordable Care Act. We can be proud that, thanks to the ACA, we have seen over 6 million new Medicaid enrollees, and more than 8 million more Americans have signed up for health insurance in the Marketplaces. But there is more work to be done to continue successfully implementing the law and reforming our health care system.”

Disease prevention will also be in focus for Burwell. Harkin said she will put effort in to transforming a “sick care system” into “one that focuses on wellness and prevention” in schools, workplaces and communities, in addition to physicians’ offices.

Alexander had words of warning for Burwell, as well as choice words about Sebelius.

“Please don’t solicit from companies you regulate. This is pretty simple. Secretary Sebelius solicited from companies she regulated. She shouldn’t have. This kind of behavior should leave with her.”