President Obama’s pick for surgeon general, Affordable Care Act advocate and physician Vivek Murthy, is scheduled to testify Tuesday before a Senate panel that will decide whether to send his nomination to the full Senate for a vote.
Murthy, who would be the first Indian-American to become chief U.S. doctor if confirmed, is a physician with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.
The 36-year old nominee was an early supporter of Obama and his health-care law, having co-founded an advocacy group in 2008 called Doctors for Obama, which later became Doctors for America and promoted the president’s health-reform plans.
Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is holding the hearing on Tuesday, are likely to express reservations about Murthy’s advocacy work, and possibly about his age and experience as well.
Murthy’s nomination also raises questions about whether Obama is looking for an independent voice on medical issues — the traditional role of a surgeon general — or an advocate for his health-care law. The Affordable Care Act has proven to be unpopular in recent months with the botched rollout of the federal government’s online health-insurance exchange, HealthCare.gov, and a recent wave of policy cancellations for Americans whose insurance plans do not meet the requirements of the legislation.
Although Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been a point person when it comes to repairing damage from the recent Obamacare setbacks, the HealthCare.gov failures have weakened her status. Some Republicans have said the president should fire her.
Obama has shown no indication that he plans to remove Sebelius from office, and he could gain from a placing a second advocate of the Affordable Care Act in one of his top administration positions.
Despite the early glitches with HealthCare.gov, more than 1.1 million Americans had enrolled in insurance plans through the site as of Dec. 24. However, more problems have cropped up, particularly with the government’s inability to fix enrollment errors.
Murthy’s resume includes founding two other organizations: Visions Worldwide, a nonprofit group dedicated to HIV and AIDS education, and TrialNetworks, a software company focused on making drug development and clinical trials more efficient.
The nominee holds a B.A. from Harvard, an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management and an M.D. from the Yale School of Medicine.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus has backed Murthy’s nomination. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), a member of the coalition, said in a November statement that his “wealth of knowledge on public health issues will ensure his success in his new role.”
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