The health insurance and employee benefits communities have had much less experience with Sylvia Mathews Burwell — the new Health and Human Services secretary nominee — than they have had with the outgoing secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.
Sebelius, who formally announced her departure today, had been the insurance commissioner in Kansas, the governor of Kansas, and the president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners before she took over at HHS.
But Burwell, who has been director of the Office of Management and Budget since April 2013, also has ties to the insurance community: She was a director both of MetLife Inc. and of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company from early 2004 through early 2013.
President Obama mentioned Burwell’s experience as a MetLife director Friday at the White House, when he introduced her as his choice to succeed Sebelius as the head of HHS.
“She gained first-hand experience into how insurance markets work, and how they can work better for businesses and families alike,” Obama said.
While Burwell was on the MetLife board, MetLife noted that she was a member of the Trilateral Commission.
In documents MetLife described Burwell as someone with “an informed perspective on global financial, business and philanthropic activities and diverse cultural considerations.”
In 2012 and 2013, Burwell served on the board’s investment committee as well as the board’s governance and corporate responsibility committee. While on the investment committee, she must have seen how low interest rates were affecting the company’s long-term disability insurance long-term care insurance lines.
MetLife paid her $296,273 in 2012. Her compensation package included $155,469 in cash and $139,882 in stock awards.
Burwell is a Rhodes Scholar with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard. The Obama administration has emphasized her small town roots in Hinton, W.Va.
Burwell’s father, William Mathews, is a retired optometrist who is a past Exalted Ruler of Hinton Elks Lodge Number 821.
Her mother, Cleo Mathews, was an active player in West Virginia Democratic politics.
Cleo Mathews is a former mayor of Hinton, and also a former head of the West Virginia State Board of Education. In 1992, when Cleo Mathews was the Democratic Party chair for Summers County, W.Va., the West Virginia state chair asked her to be the state Democratic Party convention chair.
Burwell’s father-in-law, Dick Burwell, died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2000. Burwell and her husband, Stephen Burwell, have been active in the Evergreen Chapter of the ALS Association.
Burwell’s resume also includes a stint as a chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary as well as a stint as the deputy director of OMB.