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Health Care Edge

The Burwell Era Starts Monday - Health Care Edge

June 6, 2014

The Burwell Era Starts Monday 

By Sophie Novack and Sam Baker

BURWELL CONFIRMED: Sylvia Mathews Burwell will be sworn in as the new Health and Human Services Secretary on Monday, according to an HHS aide. The Senate confirmed her yesterday in a 78-17 vote, with 24 Republicans supporting her nomination. She'll take over the department just as officials are working through some 2 million discrepancies in consumers' Obamacare applications and selecting new contractors to ensure HealthCare.gov will work when the next open enrollment period begins.

 

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BURWELL: "No one should misread my vote today as an acknowledgement that all is well in the world of Obamacare and HHS," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, before voting to confirm her. "[But Burwell] has acknowledged, for her part, that problems exist, and is committed to fix those problems. Under this administration, that's probably the best we can hope for." The Utah senator said he would do all he can to help the secretary in her new role. (Sophie Novack, National Journal)

  • Here is the breakdown of how each Senator voted. (Senate Roll Call Votes)
  • Burwell is the second Obamacare implementer confirmed in Obama's second term--the Senate confirmed Marilyn Tavenner last year to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Only four senators voted against both nominees: Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and Jim Risch.
  • @JeffYoung: "The 17 Republicans who voted against Burwell for HHS today voted for her confirmation as [Office of Management and Budget] director last year."
  • Burwell's 'textbook campaign' for the HHS post: "Burwell waged an intense Hill lobbying campaign for the job—holding face-to-face or phone meetings with 70 senators. HHS officials also reached out to all 100 senators, according to an aide working on her confirmation. Republicans acknowledge Burwell isn't going to repeal Obamacare, but they say they're impressed with [her] promise to be transparent and accessible to their oversight requests and concerns. The GOP's chief complaint about Sebelius was that she dodged their questions in hearings and in letters, they said. Bottom line: Burwell appears to be the anti-Sebelius." (Seung Min Kim and Jennifer Haberkorn, Politico)
  • Burwell maintains strong ties to her hometown in West Virginia. "In a high school class of about 165, Ms. Burwell was the valedictorian and student body president, and she was chosen most likely to succeed, most studious, prettiest eyes, best personality, best dancer, most dependable, best dressed (her mother forbid jeans) and 'best all-around.' One caption says Sylvia Mathews 'enjoys working with people to solve the school's problems.'" (Jackie Calmes, New York Times)

ADMINISTRATION WORKING ON HEALTHCARE.GOV 2.0: Federal officials are overhauling the federal Obamacare enrollment website in an attempt to avoid the issues that plagued the site during the first open enrollment period, but the tight timeline to complete the significant changes is raising concerns that consumers could again face problems using the site when open enrollment begins in November. (Spencer E. Ante, Anna Wilde Mathews, and Louise Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal)

CBO: JUST 13 PERCENT OF UNINSURED WILL PAY ACA PENALTY. About 4 million people are expected to pay the penalty for skipping health insurance in 2016, down from an earlier projection of 6 million in September 2012, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. The drop is largely due to an increase in the number that will qualify for an exemption from the individual mandate. (Jason Millman, Washington Post)

Veterans Affairs

SENATE REACHES BIPARTISAN DEAL TO FIX VA: Following negotiations between Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican John McCain, the Senate has reached an agreement on legislation to address the problems of mismanagement and delayed care and veteran health care facilities. The proposal would give the VA Secretary greater authority to fire senior officials, and provide funding for new facilities and more doctors. A vote could come as early as next week. (Sarah Mimms, National Journal)

TOP VA HEALTH NOMINEE WITHDRAWS OVER TIES TO WAITING-LIST SCANDAL: Reports linked Jeffrey Murawsky—Obama's choice to be succeed Robert Petzel as the VA's next undersecretary for health—to an Illinois facility where staff allegedly used secret waiting lists for appointments. He was also a physician at the hospital, and technically remains on staff. Murawsky asked Obama and acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson to withdraw his nomination Thursday. (Jordain Carney, National Journal)

VA CHIEF SAYS 18 VETERANS KEPT OFF APPOINTMENT WAIT LIST HAVE DIED: "The 18 veterans who died were among 1,700 veterans identified in a report last week by the VA's inspector general as being "at risk of being lost or forgotten...[Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson] said he does not know whether the 18 new deaths were related to wait times but said they were in addition to the 17 reported last month." (Matthew Daly and Terry Tang, Associated Press)

Insurance

GALLUP: U.S. UNINSURED RATE STEADY AT 13.4 PERCENT IN SECOND QUARTER OF 2014: "The percentage of U.S. adults lacking insurance coverage in the first two months of the second quarter of 2014 is down from 17.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 and from the 15.6 percent average in the first quarter of 2014. The current 13.4 percent average for the second quarter of 2014 is the lowest level recorded since Gallup began tracking this measure in 2008." (Jenna Levy, Gallup)

POLL: 74 PERCENT OF LIKELY VOTERS SATISFIED WITH THEIR HEALTH PLAN: Meanwhile, 37 percent of likely voters supported the idea of a hospital providing its own insurance for the local area, with support decreasing with age. The highest level of support is 56 percent among those aged 18-29, according to a new poll. (Michael Ramlet, Morning Consult)

OBAMACARE OPPONENTS SEEK OTHER COVERAGE OPTIONS: A small but growing group of Americans who disapprove of the health care law are looking to alternatives to pay for their health care, including Christian co-ops, membership-based primary-care clinics, and insurance policies that cover specific diseases. (Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post)

WHY OBAMACARE'S SECOND YEAR WON'T NECESSARILY BE EASIER: After meeting its first-year enrollment targets practically in spite of itself, the administration is looking at a year two in which success won't simply be a matter of replicating year one. The Obamacare landscape is already changing in big and sometimes unexpected ways, making the law's next open-enrollment period—the second of three intended to collectively expand health care coverage to some 26 million uninsured Americans—a different kind of challenge, but not necessarily a lesser one." (Sam Baker, National Journal)

Mental Health

NIH ASKS FOR $4.5 BILLION TO RESEARCH HOW BRAINS FUNCTION: The funding recommendation is for the National Institutes of Health's part of President Obama's Brain Initiative, and would gradually increase to $500 million per year in 2020, where it would remain until 2025. The president has already requested $100 million for the NIH in the 2015 fiscal year, according to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins. (James Gorman, New York Times)

GOP SHIFTS STRATEGY ON MENTAL HEALTH REFORM: "The House Energy and Commerce Committee indicated Thursday that it would divide the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act into pieces in an attempt to pass individual provisions that are not controversial. The announcement deals a serious blow to the bill and its author, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), who has argued that only dramatic and comprehensive reform would serve to help people with serious mental illness." (Elise Viebeck, The Hill)

Contraception

JUDGE EXEMPTS CATHOLIC GROUP FROM ACA CONTRACEPTION MANDATE: A federal judge granted nearly 200 Catholic employers an injunction to temporarily excuse them from the requirement to provide contraception coverage to employees. The owners of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby won a similar lawsuit in the same federal court and at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court heard arguments in that case in March, and could issue a ruling any day. (Tim Talley, Associated Press)

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