Burwell Encounters Little Opposition at First Confirmation Hearing
White House Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama's nominee for HHS Secretary, on Thursday received bipartisan praise during the first of two Senate confirmation hearings, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee reports.
According to McClatchy/Bee, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced Burwell to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and "set the tone for the unusually cordial session." McCain called the position a thankless job that needed "competent leadership." Meanwhile, Manchin described Burwell as a dear friend whom he "recommend[ed] ... wholeheartedly" (Pugh, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, 5/8).
During the hearing, Burwell responded to questions such as:
- Whether she would further extend health plans set to be canceled because they do not meet the Affordable Care Act's standards;
- Whether she would change or further extend the ACA requirement that all employers offer coverage to any employees working 30 or more hours per week;
- What role she played in the development and launch of HealthCare.gov;
- If she would continue funding for CHIP, which is set to expire this year; and
- How she plans to handle Medicaid expansion in states that chose not to expand the program under the ACA (Radnofsky/Hughes, Wall Street Journal, 5/8).
According to the Washington Post, Burwell avoided answering Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) question about extending health plans that do not comply with the ACA and offered a "diplomatic" answer to his second question about states that had declined to expand Medicaid under the ACA. Specifically, Burwell said that she thinks "flexibility" and "principles" are important, and "where you meet in that space is enough standardization that meets the principles but flexibility to meet the varied needs of states."
Further, Burwell called HealthCare.gov's initial technical glitches "unacceptable" and said she would make addressing any continuing or new issues a top priority (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 5/8).
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) asked Burwell if she supported expanding the ACA into a single-payer system.
Burwell said, "If I am confirmed, I will implement the law," which she said supports a "market-based system." She added, "I look forward to, if confirmed, making that system work as efficiently and effectively as possible" (McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, 5/8).
CHIP Receives Burwell's Support
According to Kaiser Health News' "Capsules," Burwell during the hearing confirmed that she supports continued funding for CHIP, which provides coverage for around eight million low-income children whose families' incomes are greater than Medicaid's eligibility requirements.
Specifically, Burwell called CHIP "a program that is successful" and said she would "look forward to working with the Congress to make sure that we continue a ... program that is delivering for children in an important way" (Carey, "Capsules," Kaiser Health News, 5/9).
Insurers Sing Burwell's Praises
In related news, officials from health insurers "heaped praise" on Burwell before her confirmation hearing, The Hill reports.
For example, America's Health Insurance Plans President Karen Ignagni said, "As we move forward with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, [Burwell's] distinguished leadership and her notable experience in both the private and public sectors make her uniquely qualified to lead HHS during this critical time," adding, "As health plans prepare for the next open enrollment period, we look forward to working with her."
According to The Hill, the relationship between HHS and insurers is "critical for the success" of the ACA, and Burwell's approach "will still have the power to raise or lower insurers' satisfaction with the system" (Viebeck, The Hill, 5/8).
Burwell's next hearing is before the Senate Finance Committee, and if approved, her nomination will be considered by the full Senate. Because of changes in the filibuster rules, Democrats will be able to confirm her with a simple majority, eliminating the need for Republican votes (Levey, "Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 5/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.