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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Nomination of Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy to serve as Surgeon General”

“I am pleased to welcome Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General. As the ‘Nation’s Doctor,’ the Surgeon General serves as our nation’s primary spokesperson and advocate on matters of public health and is a critical leader in the response to public health crises and national emergencies, including natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and terrorist attacks. Specifically, the Surgeon General is responsible for leading the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Medical Reserves Corps, and the National Prevention Council, which I’m proud to have created in the Affordable Care Act.

“The Surgeon General is uniquely positioned to develop and implement strategies to promote safety, health and wellness, and to drive disease prevention strategies in our nation. We need only look to great work of previous Surgeons General to see the potential for transformational public health initiatives that can save millions of lives and change the course of our nation’s health and well-being.

“Just recently, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of one such accomplishment in the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, which paved the way for combatting the epidemic of disease and suffering related to tobacco use.  That initiative is estimated to have saved at least 8 million lives from smoking-related illnesses. In addition to powerfully spotlighting the dangers of tobacco use, Surgeons General have improved the health of the American people on issues as far reaching as HIV/AIDS, underage drinking, mental health, access to health care, chronic disease, and obesity.  Countless lives have been lengthened and saved thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the men and women who have served in this all-important role.     

“Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, who served until last July, was the most recent example of the capacity for a Surgeon General to shed light on urgent public health issues – and we salute her good work. During her tenure, she developed national suicide prevention initiatives; partnered with the business community through the ‘Million Hearts’ campaign, which aims to prevent one million heart attacks annually; and released ‘The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation,’ laying out strategies to fight childhood obesity and to increase levels of physical fitness. Especially close to my heart, she also oversaw the release and implementation of the first-ever National Prevention Strategy and subsequent action plan, which I called for in the Affordable Care Act.

“The importance of this role is made all the more clear by the inestimable role played by the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in responding to emergencies, including – in recent years – Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Should he be confirmed, Dr. Murthy’s calm demeanor, his excellent ability to communicate with Americans from all backgrounds, and his medical and public health expertise will be an invaluable asset during the times that Americans are most concerned about their health and safety. 

“Despite the herculean efforts of previous Surgeons General, we still have many challenges to address to improve the health of our nation. So we are very fortunate to have a nominee of Dr. Vivek Murthy’s caliber.  He is an extraordinary physician, and exceptionally well-qualified to lead our national prevention and wellness efforts.

“In fact, Dr. Murthy’s colleagues, who know him best, have sent me compelling letters of support that testify to his talents, leadership, and character. I will just note a few of these words of praise. These colleagues note that he is someone ‘willing to work with people of all backgrounds,’ that he is a ‘strong, dynamic leader,’ is ‘keenly aware of the issues facing our country.’ In addition to this professional leadership, his colleagues describe his ‘unsurpassed’ level of ‘compassion, personal integrity, and energy’ for promoting health and wellness initiatives in the U.S. and abroad. I ask unanimous consent to include the text of these letters in the record.

“Given Dr. Murthy’s extraordinary medical and public health accomplishments, it is no surprise that his colleagues hold him in such high esteem.

“Shortly, Senator Warren will speak to the extraordinary range of Dr. Murthy’s professional experience and accomplishments, but I would just like to note how impressed I have been by Dr. Murthy’s extensive experience in clinical care, his achievements in the field of public health, and his obvious passion for public service.

“As a member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health, he has already been an active participant in the campaign to transform America’s traditional ‘sick care’ system into a genuine health care system – one that emphasizes wellness, prevention, and public health, one in which our communities, our schools, and our workplaces support Americans in making healthy choices every day. 

“I could speak at much greater length about Dr. Murthy’s accomplishments.  But for the sake of time, I’ll just say that it is clear that Dr. Murthy is an exemplary candidate to serve as Surgeon General of the United States.

“As I said, the Surgeon General’s leadership role is absolutely critical to the health and safety of our nation, as well as to the success of our national strategies to promote disease prevention and wellness – strategies that have the power to greatly improve the health of our people today and long into the future.

“Dr. Murthy, I look forward to hearing more about your background and experience, as well as your plans to protect and promote the health of all Americans.”