June 5 (Bloomberg) — Sylvia Mathews Burwell was confirmed today by the Senate as the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, replacing Kathleen Sebelius and signaling a new stage for Obamacare.
The vote for Burwell, President Barack Obama’s budget chief, was 78-17. A majority of Republicans supported her while making clear their votes didn’t reflect backing for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Burwell, 48, assumes control of a government agency with close to a $1 trillion annual budget and programs touching the lives of every American. Her priority is the Affordable Care Act, which enters its second year of enrollment under continuing political attack and with a technology infrastructure that remains a work in progress.
“Ms. Burwell has a reputation for competence, and she is going to need it,” Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said in a floor speech yesterday. “She is being asked to oversee a big mess this administration has created in health care and so far has lacked the leadership to clean up.”
About 8 million people signed up for private health coverage under the Affordable Care Act this year, after the administration fixed errors with its consumer website, healthcare.gov, that stymied enrollment in October and November. Behind the scenes back-end technology is still under construction to allow the site to communicate with insurers and correct mistakes in applications. Some states, meanwhile, are struggling with a backlog of applications for Medicaid, after it was expanded this year.
Yesterday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency under Burwell’s purview that runs Obamacare, said more than 2 million people, a quarter of the enrollment total, have “inconsistencies” in the information they provided about their income, citizenship or immigration status. The agency is allowing an indefinite amount of time for those people to provide documents supporting their applications.
Sebelius long ago exhausted any goodwill she enjoyed from Republicans, who used debate on Burwell’s nomination to revisit the Obama administration’s implementation of the health law.