In a calm, consistent tone and exhibiting a warm, everpresent smile, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell – the highest-level Greek-American member of President Obama’s Cabinet – told NBC’s Meet the Press host Chuck Todd in no uncertain terms on November 16 that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – the president’s signature domestic initiative widely known as “Obamacare” – is a success.
“We had 100,000 folks submit applications” the day before (November 15), which opened Season 2 of Obamacare, Burwell beamed confidently, “and 500,000 people logged on successfully.”
Todd, who recently became host of Meet the Press – the longest-running show in television history – and is continuing the Tim Russert heritage of avoiding “softball” questions and asking more probing ones, asked why, despite the successes, the American public’s skepticism about Obamacare “hasn’t changed one bit?”
Unperturbed and retaining her warm demeanor, Burwell responded that the Administration needs to “translate that success because I think when you ask the American people about those things individually, or when you ask the American people about the importance of no longer being held off healthcare because of preexisting conditions, or the fact that their children up to the age 26 can be on their plans, that’s three million. When you ask them about the substance of the issue, the American people respond positively.”
Todd asked Burwell to comment about the caustic words of Jonathan Gruber, widely heralded as the “architect” of Obamacare, who has sparked tremendous controversy following the release of a series of videos in which he fesses that the ACA was purposely written in a convoluted “torturous” way to exploit the lack of information by the “stupid” American voter, and explained that it really amounts to healthy people paying more money so that sick people can get it.
Maintaining every bit of her pleasant composure without showing anger about Gruber’s comments, which essentially portray Obamacare as a colossal fraud, Burwell emphatically defended the landmark healthcare legislation: “I have to start with how fundamentally I disagree with his comments about the bill and about the American people,” she told Todd. “Since I’ve been at the department, one of the things that I’ve focused on is transparency, making sure that all our numbers coming out, whether they’re good or bad. And the other thing is that the law is based on the issues of transparency and belief in the American people and choices in the marketplace.”
The ACA offers the American people a chance to compare competing plans, she said. “They’re comparing based on premiums, they’re comparing based on deductibility. When you give the American people the tools to make the right choices for themselves, they’re going to do that. And that’s what this is about. From the issue of actually the consumer to the fact that we have put out information so that people can see what providers are receiving from pharmaceuticals.”
If the overwhelming bipartisan support she received in her confirmation as Health and Human Services Secretary – by a vote of 78 to 17 in a political climate where consensus is virtually unheard of – is not enough of a testament to the likability she projects, the Meet the Press interview reinforces it.
Still just 49, Burwell has already accomplished many times over what most folks cannot in an entire lifetime: the Harvard and Oxford graduate has served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, President of the Walmart Foundation, and President of the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She was also Deputy White House Chief of Staff for policy under President Bill Clinton.
Would she seek elected office herself? Though she has not indicated as such, her impressive credentials and the ease with which she sits on the highest-profile media seat in the world renders her a political natural.