Burwell Poised for Smooth Confirmation After Second Hearing
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama's nominee for HHS Secretary, on Wednesday received additional bipartisan support during the second of two Senate confirmation hearings, almost guaranteeing she will be confirmed by the full Senate, the Los Angeles Times' "Politics Now" reports.
According to "Politics Now," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced Burwell before the Senate Finance Committee hearing and touted her competence and common-sense leadership, saying he would vote for her confirmation on the Senate floor.
During the hearing, Republican members questioned Burwell about specific fixes to the Affordable Care Act, displaying a marked difference from their usual push to repeal the law. For example, Sen. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) said he would like to work with Burwell to protect elderly U.S. residents' access to private Medicare plans, payments to which will be reduced under the law.
Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) urged Burwell to bolster the state health insurance exchanges (Levey, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 5/14). According to the Wall Street Journal, Republicans recently have argued that hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds were wasted on glitch-filled, state-run insurance exchange websites. Hatch, along with Sen. John Barasso (R-Wyo.), have introduced legislation (S 2339) that would require states that abandoned such exchanges to return the funds.
Burwell said HHS should work to "understand what went wrong" with the exchange sites to ensure officials "both learn from the mistakes of the exchanges that aren't working and learn from the exchanges that are" (Radnofsky/Hughes, Wall Street Journal, 5/14). She added, "Where the federal government and the taxpayer [have] had funds misused, we need to use the full extent of the law to get those funds back for the taxpayer." Burwell also said the agency would pursue "contractors or others that have misled through their contracts or other things to fully recover" funds from states with failed exchange sites (Haberkorn, Politico, 5/14).
Burwell also faced questions from the committee regarding:
- Alzheimer's research;
- Powdered alcohol;
- Whether she would be responsive to the committee's future inquiries (Wall Street Journal, 5/14);
- Whether she would extend an administrative fix allowing people to keep health plans that would otherwise have been canceled for not meeting the ACA's minimum coverage standards (Viebeck, The Hill, 5/14);
- How many exchange enrollees previously were uninsured;
- The fairness of some union health plans being exempt from certain ACA provisions;
- Whether HHS would help to clear state backlogs of Medicaid applications (Politico, 5/14); and
- Her thoughts on the administration's changes to the law, such as delaying the employer mandate (AP/Modern Healthcare, 5/14).
The Finance Committee must vote on Burwell's confirmation before sending it to the full Senate for a vote ("Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 5/14). Because of changes in the filibuster rules, Democrats will be able to confirm her with a simple majority, eliminating the need for Republican votes (California Healthline, 5/9). According to the Journal, Senate Democratic leaders anticipate a full Senate vote on Burwell's confirmation in early June, if not as early as next week (Wall Street Journal, 5/14).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.