Burwell Confirmed as Secretary of HHS
On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Sylvia Matthews Burwell as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a bipartisan vote of 78-17. The vote puts Burwell at the helm of a complex federal department with a significant impact on the lives of all Americans.
President Obama nominated Burwell in April to replace outgoing Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Prior to last week’s vote, Burwell had served as Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where she was also Deputy Director for several years during the Clinton administration. The West Virginia native has also held previous positions as president of both the Walmart Foundation and the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
While much of the press coverage surrounding Burwell’s appointment and HHS has focused on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, with over 76,000 employees and a $940 billion budget, HHS in fact does far more than that. The Department is responsible for administering the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Head Start program, and the Administration for Children and Families, among many other critical responsibilities. In addition, of course, she and her staff will be responsible for the continuing implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
As Jews, we know how critical it is to provide for the health and welfare of all members of society. Our tradition teaches us that human life is of infinite value and that the preservation of life supersedes almost all other considerations. The work of the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the health and safety of all Americans, then, is absolutely critical. As now-Secretary Burwell takes the reins of this important department, let us remember its important function in improving the lives of all Americans.