Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

April 12, 2014

Obama taps Hinton native for health job

HINTON — When times get tough, West Virginians have a reputation of loyally stepping up with a “get it done” attitude, and President Barack Obama has apparently noticed.

Obama nominated Hinton native Sylvia Mathews Burwell Friday to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services, just one day after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced her resignation.

One of Burwell’s first tasks would be to oversee the enrollment of millions of people in the government’s health care exchange — a system that has been marked by a myriad of technical problems.

Congressman Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., said Burwell has a “practical” approach to policy and compassion for family needs — evidence of her southern West Virginia roots.

“West Virginians can be proud that the values we hold so dear and instilled in Sylvia early on will be put to work in this important federal partner that touches so many families in our state,” said Rahall.

If her nomination is successful, Burwell will be responsible for deciding how to carry out the mandate that requires employers to provide health insurance to their workers.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he’s confident the southern West Virginian will be successful.

“Sylvia’s experience in both the public and private sector, matched with the bipartisan relationships she has built over the years, shows that she is a public servant ready to take on this country’s challenges,” said Manchin. “I am confident that her leadership will ensure that we enact common sense fixes to the Affordable Care Act to help improve the lives of millions of Americans.”

Burwell, 48, currently serves as the director of Office of Management and Budget in Washington. She’s the daughter of former Hinton mayor Cleo Mathews.

Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Burwell was president of Walmart Foundation, the charitable arm of Walmart stores.

According to online sources, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough stated that Obama chose Burwell because he wanted “a proven manager and relentless implementer” at the agency.

Sebelius stepped down months after the historical passage of the Affordable Care Act. Although around 7.5 million Americans have enrolled in private insurance plans, the system has been plagued with vast technical glitches since enrollment started.

West Virginia lawmakers applauded Obama’s decision Friday.

“Serving as HHS Secretary will be a tough assignment,” noted Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.“But Sylvia Mathews Burwell will not be deterred, nor will she deviate from our nation’s moral calling of health care for all.”

Rockefeller, who said he’s known Burwell her entire life, noted that she’s a “proven leader and renowned public policy expert,” “whip smart, hard-working and full of integrity.”

Burwell, a Harvard graduate, worked for the Clinton Administration in several public policy positions.

In a 2007 visit to Beckley to promote Hillary Clinton’s preliminary bid for presidency, Bill Clinton called out Burwell’s mother and expressed gratitude for Burwell’s service.

After Bill Clinton left office, Burwell worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a 40-million fund that finances global health and other programs in poverty-stricken communities.

— E-mail: jfarrish@register-herald.com

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