Skip to Content

Filter by:

Washington Highlights

HHS Secretary Nominee Approved By Senate Finance Committee

May 23, 2014—The Senate Finance Committee May 21 approved (21-3) the nomination of Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) designate, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who currently serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The vote came after Secretary-designate Burwell drew praise from both Republicans and Democrats during a May 14 committee hearing, in which she answered numerous questions regarding mandate exemptions and the overall implementation of the Affordable Care Act  (ACA, P.L. 111-148, P.L. 111-152).

Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) opened the May 14 hearing acknowledging the many challenges Secretary-designate Burwell will face if confirmed, particularly regarding the ACA. Chairman Wyden also highlighted the recent year-long bicameral, bipartisan support to reform the Medicare physician payment system and repeal the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), stating, “Congress has never been closer to repealing the flawed Medicare physician payment system and replacing it with bipartisan reforms that reward the quality of care, rather than the quantity. I’m looking forward to working with you, once you’re confirmed, to fix the Medicare physician payment system this year.”

In her opening statement, Secretary-designate Burwell focused on how she would address the challenges awaiting the incoming secretary. She stated, “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.”

Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) commented on HHS’s immense size and broad scope of responsibility, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and expressed his concern with the vast number of issues facing the new department head. Sen. Hatch then stated, “While I believe you have the qualifications to do the job, there is still much that you will need to do in order to assure members of this committee that HHS is heading in the right direction and that your leadership will help steer the agency through the very turbulent times that lie ahead.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) expressed concern regarding CMS’s “two-midnight” policy, which establishes new rules regarding how short hospital stays are paid under Medicare, stating, “Once the current delay’s over, we’ll still be in a situation where the rule is unworkable and unenforceable. Can you provide an assurance that CMS will have policies in place that ensure the rule viability once the statutory enforcement delay expires next year?” Secretary-designate Burwell acknowledged members’ concerns and committed to pursuing new policies to address the rule.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) asked Secretary-designate Burwell what role HHS would play concerning the need to address the impending physician workforce shortage, stating “we’re not going to get there if we don’t have a graduate medical education expansion.” Secretary-designate Burwell highlighted the president’s proposal in the FY 2015 budget request that would aim to increase providers in primary care and shortage specialties [see Washington Highlights, March 7].

A vote on the Senate floor has not yet been scheduled, but is expected to take place when the Senate returns from a week-long Memorial Day recess.


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

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


envelope on a green background

Subscribe to Washington Highlights

RSS icon

Subscribe to RSS

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

Past Issues

For More Information

Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806