US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the HELP Committee Hearing: “Hearing on the Nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell To Serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services”

Thursday, May 08, 2014

“We have convened this hearing to consider the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Ms. Burwell, thank you for joining us today. I also welcome your husband, Stephen Burwell, your sister, Stephanie O’Keefe and her husband Joe O’Keefe, as well as your friends Saj-nicole Joni and Linda Lourie.

“Ms. Burwell is currently serving as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, a position to which she was confirmed by a vote of 96-0 in April 2013. Ms. Burwell has proven herself as an effective and dynamic manager, with experience and skill in leading a wide range of organizations. Recently, I had a very productive meeting with Ms. Burwell and concluded that she is a deeply impressive nominee and is eminently qualified to serve as the next Secretary of Health and Human Services.

“The United States faces serious public health challenges, many of which require urgent answers. Very often, the entire world looks to HHS for leadership. Just last Friday, this country confronted the first ever incident of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) within our borders. HHS responded quickly to educate the public, investigate the situation, and develop a path forward.

“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.

“For example, she will be responsible for research efforts at the National Institutes of Health, among other agencies. This federally-sponsored research has made the United States the world leader in biomedical innovation, and has resulted in countless discoveries and breakthroughs, from the extraordinary application of genomics to cutting-edge pharmaceuticals to an unprecedented understanding of the human brain.

“Ms. Burwell also will be in charge of another long-time priority of mine, disease prevention. She will lead our nation's efforts to transform our health care system from a "sick care system" into one that focuses on wellness and prevention, not just at the doctor’s office but also in our schools, workplaces, and communities.

“Ms. Burwell will oversee the Food and Drug Administration – a critically important agency that protects and promotes public health by helping to keep our nation’s food and medical product supplies safe, among other things. In fact, FDA now oversees items accounting for 25 cents out of every dollar spent by Americans.

“The Department also ensures that we can meet the health care and education needs of our most vulnerable citizens through programs like the community health centers, Ryan White HIV programs, and the Head Start program.

“The Secretary is also charged with oversight of programs that support millions of Americans with disabilities. Medicaid makes it possible for many with chronic disabilities to remain in their homes, to go to work or school, and to be active members of society. In tandem, the Administration for Community Living implements policies that help people with disabilities to stay in their homes, neighborhoods and places of work, with the result that people are healthier, happier, and have better quality of life.

“And of course Ms. Burwell will have the critical role of overseeing implementation of the Affordable Care Act. We can be proud that, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we have seen 4.8 million new Medicaid enrollees, and more than 8 million more Americans have signed up for health insurance in the Marketplaces. But there is more work to be done to continue successfully implementing the law and reforming our health care system.

“The list goes on and on, but I’ve made my point that, as Secretary, Ms. Burwell will shoulder incredibly important responsibilities that matter deeply to the health and wellness of the American people. We look forward to hearing from Ms. Burwell, today, about her vision and priorities for the Department of Health and Human Services. And we welcome this opportunity to question her about many of the issues that this Committee will continue to oversee going forward.”

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