President Obama taps OMB director to head up health agency
(CNN) — President Barack Obama announced Friday he will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the next Department of Health and Human Services secretary. Burwell is the current director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Obama praised outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. He said she would “go down in history” for serving as secretary when the United States “finally declared that quality, affordable health care” would be a right for every U.S. citizen. Obama said, “I will miss her advice. I will miss her friendship. I will miss her wit.”
While praising Sebelius,Obama acknowledged early problems in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. But under her leadership as Health and Human Services secretary, Obama said, “her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done and the final score speaks for itself” — 7.5 million people signed up for Obamacare.
The woman whom President Barack Obama will tap to replace outgoing Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius is no stranger to making tough calls.
After all, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget, was responsible for sending out the shutdown order to federal agencies last fall.
She also has a history in Washington circles that extends beyond her role as the current budget director. Burwell is a Clinton administration veteran going back all the way to the 1992 campaign when she worked in the “War Room.”
She inherits an agency that has faced criticism over its implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the President’s signature heath care reform law. Sebelius weathered heavy criticism over the flaw-filled launch of the Obamacare website, then saw the program through as it topped a major milestone.
Sebelius’ time as head of the federal health agency coincided with the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the bill often referred to as Obamacare. She came under fire last fall for the rocky rollout of HealthCare.gov, the website central to the new law’s implementation.
The website’s performance did improve significantly, prompting the calls for her job to die down as well. This month, in a letter to department employees, Sebelius reflected on Obamacare enrollment exceeding its target of 7 million as evidence of “the progress we’ve made, together,” while stating that “our work is far from over.”
“I know that this law has been at the center of much debate and discourse in Washington, but what this enrollment demonstrates is that the Affordable Care Act is working and much needed,” she said in the note.
Sebelius is expected to be by the President’s side at 11 a.m. Friday when he announces Burwell’s nomination, according to a White House official.
Burwell, 48, was confirmed to her current Cabinet-rank position in April 2013. She came to the White House from her spot atop the Walmart Foundation, the giant retail chain’s charitable organization that, according to its website, donated nearly $1 billion to causes worldwide in 2011.
Before that, Burwell worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and in President Bill Clinton’s administration under then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.