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Senate HELP Committee Holds HHS Nomination Hearing

May 9, 2014—The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a May 8 hearing on the nomination of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) - designate, Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Burwell, who currently serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), received praise from both Republicans and Democrats but faced many questions regarding her agenda if confirmed as HHS Secretary, especially issues surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA, P.L. 111-148, P.L. 111-152), including cost of premiums, issues with the initial rollout, and definition of a full-time work week.

Opening the hearing, HELP Committee Chair Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), highlighted expectations of Burwell if confirmed as the next HHS Secretary saying, “The United States faces serious public health challenges, many of which require urgent answers. Very often, the entire world looks to HHS for leadership. We will count on our next Secretary for exactly that kind of informed, decisive action in the face of future challenges and crises, and to provide a steady hand overseeing an incredible range of activities across the Department. As Secretary, Ms. Burwell will shoulder incredibly important responsibilities that matter deeply to the health and wellness of the American people.”

Ranking Member Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) expressed his continued aversion to ACA, and outlined potential changes that could occur should Republicans regain the Senate majority saying, “Here’s what Republicans would do about health care if we were in charge: Republicans want to repair the damage Obamacare has done and prevent future damage. As responsibly and rapidly as we can, we want to move in a different direction to put in place proposals that provide more freedom, more choices, and lower costs.”

In her testimony, Burwell outlined her approach to the many expected challenges she would face as Secretary stating, “Understanding the complexity and significance of the challenges that lie ahead, I will approach my work at the Department with three guiding tenets ― driving solutions for the issues we all care deeply about; building teams with the talent and focus we need to implement against our objectives; and strengthening relationships to make progress on the wide variety of issues at the Department that transcend parties, and will ultimately transcend our generation.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) used the hearing as an opportunity to express his concerns on the future health care workforce and asked for Burwell’s help, saying, “We face a crisis in terms of the number of physicians and other health care providers that we have getting out to underserved areas of America. Will you work with some of us to make sure we adequately fund the National Health Service Corps to do debt forgiveness or scholarships for medical school students who want to practice in underserved areas?”

Burwell responded, “There are a number of provisions that are attempting to improve and make sure that they focus on what you just articulated, primary care and where there are shortages in specialties. That’s something that’s a part of the budget and a series of bringing pieces together that include how we think about the National Health Service Corps as well, and so yes, that is something that is part of the budget process I’ve worked on and would look forward to working, if confirmed, on in a new world.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) raised concerns regarding Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education (CHGME) and the security of future funding saying, “I’m most concerned about the funding of this program, which is the one program, and tremendously successful, that allows us to train folks in graduate medical education who will specifically work in children’s hospitals. Without this program we’d be in big trouble.”

He further asked for Burwell’s commitment to consult with fellow CHGME champions when contemplating future strategies for funding, to which Burwell replied that she would welcome the opportunity.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote the Burwell nomination in the coming weeks, sending it to the Senate floor for final consideration.


Len Marquez
Director, Government Relations
Telephone: 202-862-6281

Courtney Summers
Senior Legislative Analyst
Telephone: 202-862-6042


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Washington Highlights, a weekly electronic newsletter, features brief updates on the latest legislative and regulatory activities affecting medical schools and teaching hospitals.

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Jason Kleinman
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Telephone: 202-903-0806