Practice Economics

Burwell confirmed as HHS secretary


Sylvia Mathews Burwell is the new secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services and the de facto face of the controversial Affordable Care Act.

On June 5, the Senate voted 78-17 to confirm Ms. Burwell to lead HHS. Her nomination garnered a good deal of bipartisan support, with several GOP senators praising her competence. However, several Republicans refused to vote for the West Virginia native because of their opposition to the ACA, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

"By most accounts, Sylvia Burwell is a smart and skilled public servant. But her embrace of Obamacare calls her policy judgment into question," Sen. McConnell said on the floor of the Senate. "And when it comes to the task of implementing this ill-conceived and disastrous law, the president may as well have nominated Sisyphus. Because, as I indicated, Ms. Burwell is being asked to do the impossible here."

Alicia Ault/Frontline Medical News

Sylvia Mathews Burwell at her confirmation hearing to be the next HHS secretary.

On April 11, President Obama nominated Ms. Burwell, then director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius whose 5-year tenure at HHS was marred by the rocky rollout of

During two Senate confirmation hearings, Ms. Burwell gave a glimpse of how she will approach the job at HHS.

When asked about her approach to employing the controversial Independent Payment Advisory Board, Ms. Burwell said she hopes that it will never be triggered because the government will keep health care costs under control.

In addressing the mishandled rollout of, Ms. Burwell said learned that there needs to be a different approach to handling information technology procurement and delivery. She pledged to ensure there was "ownership and accountability" in the IT operations in the future.

She also promised GOP senators that she would share information with them.

Ms. Burwell, a Rhodes Scholar from Hinton, W.Va., previously served as president of the Walmart Foundation and as president of the global development program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. During the Clinton administration, she was deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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