New HHS Secretary Burwell faces challenges early on

June 6, 2014

Newly appointed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell will face several challenges upon entering office, as she is tasked with the continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

 

Newly appointed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell will face several challenges upon entering office, as she is tasked with the continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Burwell’s confirmation in the Senate faced little opposition and was approved in a 78 to 17 bipartisan vote on Thursday. Replacing outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Burwell most recently served as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Her previous positions include: deputy chief of staff for President Clinton , president of the Wal-mart Foundation, and chief operating officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

President Barack Obama said in a written statement that Burwell “is a proven manager who knows how to deliver results.

“I’m confident Sylvia’s unparalleled experience will serve her well in her new role as she works to ensure the safety of our food and drug supply, protect our nation from outbreaks or bioterror attacks, keep America at the forefront of medical research, and make sure every American has access to quality, affordable healthcare,” Obama said.

Burwell will face several challenges upon entering office. She will have to prepare for the next ACA open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15. Although the first ACA open enrollment period generated more than 8 million sign-ups, the rollout of the Healthcare.gov website was plagued by problems. She will also have to lead the implementation of the Small Business Health Options Program exchange, which was delayed until 2015.

Physicians will be looking to Burwell to find a permanent fix to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. In March, Congress passed its 17th temporary patch to the formula, which the American Medical Association (AMA) and other physician advocate groups vehemently opposed.

“The AMA is looking forward to working with Ms. Burwell to continue to improve our nation’s health care system. We share a common goal of a permanent solution to the flawed SGR payment formula that would bring stability to medicine and encourage the adoption of new care models to ensure improved care and patient health, while reducing costs,” said Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, AMA president, in a written statement.

Reid Blackwelder, MD, FAAFP, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says he is looking forward to working with Burwell.

“Burwell has been an effective administrator and organizational leader in both federal and not-for-profit arenas,” said Blackwelder, in a written statement. “Just as we have enjoyed working with Kathleen Sebelius during her tenure as HHS secretary, we anticipate continued interest in building a health care delivery system that is based on primary care.”