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Senate confirms Obama’s health secretary nominee


– New management, same problems.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell was confirmed Thursday as the nation’s new health secretary, but she’ll have to act quickly to head off more insurance chaos this fall.

The 78-17 Senate vote was a bipartisan show of support for the veteran government manager who most recently served as President Barack Obama’s budget director.

Sens. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., voted in favor of confirming Burwell.

Burwell’s attention will immediately turn to the Health and Human Services Department’s newest mission: covering the uninsured under Obama’s health care law. The open-enrollment website,, is still dealing with unresolved issues ranging from possibly inaccurate insurance payments to e-commerce basics.

The White House desperately wants to avoid more attention-grabbing problems when sign-up season starts Nov. 15.

Democrats expressed the hope that Burwell’s confirmation might usher in a fresh start for the Affordable Care Act, but Republicans indicated they wouldn’t play along. Health experts pointed to difficulties ahead.

“There is the potential for a huge mess again,” said Robert Laszewski, a health care industry consultant.

Burwell, 48, will replace outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who helped shepherd the health care overhaul through Congress in Obama’s first term.

But Sebelius was heavily criticized when the coverage rollout ran into paralyzing technical problems last fall.

Burwell will take over a $1 trillion agency whose programs provide coverage for more than 100 million Americans, with a portfolio of premier science agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.