The White House’s new pick to run Obamacare will kick off her confirmation battle Thursday with the first of two…
The White House’s new pick to run Obamacare will kick off her confirmation battle Thursday with the first of two grillings from Senate Republicans.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell has a very strong chance of getting confirmed with strong support of Senate Democrats and even some Republicans who have indicated that they could vote for her, barring a significant gaffe or a skeleton discovered in her closet.
But that doesn’t mean either of her two confirmation hearings to be secretary of Health and Human Services will be easy. Republicans will use both of them to try to undermine the legislation that she’d be responsible for implementing from now on — Obamacare.
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Burwell, who last year was unanimously confirmed as White House budget chief, will testify Thursday at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. A second hearing is expected next week at the Senate Finance Committee, the panel that will vote on sending her nomination to the Senate floor.
These are five significant questions she is likely to face:
1. Are you going to be upfront with us?
A huge part of the Republican rage against outgoing Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was that she ignored their oversight requests and dodged their questions — some would even say misled them — in congressional hearings. They say she never shared any hint of administrative delays or trouble with HealthCare.gov and refused to reveal health exchange enrollment statistics that the administration ought to have had. They’re now going to want assurances from Burwell that she and her agency will be more responsive.
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“I’d just like to get a response,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who strongly supported Sebelius’ nomination but later called on her to resign amid a tea party primary challenge at home. “You’re trying to find out what’s significant and what isn’t. You don’t get a response. You don’t get a phone call. I have to hand [letters] to her at a hearing? I mean, come on.”
2. What would you change in the law?
Obamacare supporters often say that the legislation isn’t perfect and that they’re open to reasonable changes. Expect Burwell to be pressed on specific pieces she would be willing to adjust, let alone fully repeal.
“My goal is to see if she’s ready to work with Republicans to repair the damage done by Obamacare,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who — as the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — will be the first GOP member to question Burwell. “Republicans have a number of specific suggestions for going step by step in a different direction than the Democrats took us with Obamacare. I want to see if she’s ready to acknowledge that Obamacare is hurting Americans and has damaged many Americans and if she’s ready to work with us to repair the damage.”
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3. How many people lost coverage and how many were previously uninsured?
Republicans argue that the White House’s 8 million enrollment figure is going to look a lot smaller once we know how many people lost coverage because of the law, how many of the new enrollees were previously uninsured and how many people who signed up have paid their premiums.
The administration so far has not been able to definitively answer those questions — although the insurers say the payment rate is running around 85 percent to 90 percent. But don’t expect Republicans to stop asking.
“Is she’s going to be forthright and answer the questions Kathleen Sebelius would not? How many people actually paid for Obamacare?” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). “It’s very important that she demonstrate her ability to hold Obamacare accountable to what the American people expect — not increasing premiums, not reducing coverage and making sure people can be insured.”
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the Democrats’ point man on messaging the health law, said he’s fine with Republicans making Burwell’s hearing about Obamacare, even though HHS is a huge agency that oversees far more than the president’s signature health law.
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“If you give Sylvia Burwell the chance to talk about 8 million people enrolled, health care expenditures coming down, quality increasing, that will be a pretty good hearing for the Affordable Care Act,” Murphy said. “I think part of the reason Republicans aren’t talking up blocking her nomination is because they don’t really want a fight on the Affordable Care Act … because there is too much information on our side and increasingly too little information on their side.”
4. What about those premiums?
Republicans — and some other health experts — expect premiums to rise for the second year of the coverage expansion. They’d like nothing more than for Burwell to admit she’s expecting that — or to get her on the record saying that they won’t. They either get a headline now saying that premiums will go up, or they can say this summer — when the second-year premiums are expected to start trickling out — that the new Obamacare chief was wrong.
5. How much do you know about health care?
The White House touted Burwell’s stellar background coming into the HHS job. She has dealt with a broad range of budgetary issues, including health and entitlements at OMB, and she’s known among a bevy of supporters for being incredibly smart and a good manager. But she has never been immersed in health care. She was on the board of the University of Washington Medical Center but hasn’t worked with providers or health care interests.
“The biggest issue facing America now is what to do about health care,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). “And she lacks experience in that and you would think that in this point in history you would get somebody who served as a head of a state health department, a state Medicaid [agency], who ran an insurance company or a big medical company or just a big company that bought a lot of health care.”
Sebelius, of course, had that background — she was a governor and a former state insurance commissioner. But it didn’t win her too many GOP friends.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/05/sylvia-mathews-burwell-obamacare-questions-106474.html#ixzz31CR1B8BG