President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services appears before the U.S. Senate on Thursday. Sylvia Burwell’s nomination will be considered by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
There will be plenty of political questions about the future of Obamacare. But what questions would healthcare executives and policy wonks want to ask? We got in touch with a few to find out.
Sonya Schwartz, Georgetown Center for Children and Families Research Fellow:
Q. You are known to be a management superstar, do you have ideas about how to improve HHS’s work with contractors so that healthcare.gov does not inspire the film “Frozen II?”
Q. Verifying identity online continues to be a major roadblock for people applying for coverage on healthcare.gov – particularly for people with low incomes and limited credit history. How would you tackle this problem?
Q. HHS has been working on greater transparency and data sharing. Can you discuss points in your career where you made information more transparent even though you risked alienating some important stakeholders?
Q. Last year’s coverage goal was 7 million and HHS exceeded that mark, do you have a number in mind for 2014-2015?
Dr. Robert Wachter, University of California, San Francisco:
Q. Hospitals and physicians are reeling from the profusion of quality, safety, and efficiency measures they’re being asked to submit – and some experts have begun to call for a moratorium on new measures. Do you feel like we need to slow down the process of promulgating new measures until we have sorted this out?
Q. Now that HITECH has succeeded in wiring the American healthcare system — what do you see as the things that HHS can do that it couldn’t before. And where do you see new potential hazards that we need to be mindful of?
Health economist Amitabh Chandra, Harvard:
“I want to know a lot more about how she will get the exchanges to work better. The exchanges are central to reform. Right now, when we think of an exchange working, we often think of it working in the narrow IT sense. But what we really need to be thinking about, however, is whether price competition on the exchanges is able to reduce health insurance premiums. If it’s not able to do this, the fact that they work in the IT sense is no good.”
Q. Central to getting price competition to work in the exchanges is taking out a bunch of lard that is in the current exchange plans; a lot of what we call ‘essential health benefits’ aren’t essential at all. As long as junk like this is being covered, the exchange plans will be expensive. What are [your] proposals to increase price competition on the exchanges and second, make the exchange plans leaner?
Robert Restuccia, Executive Director Community Catalyst:
Q. The first open enrollment period surpassed expectations in terms of the number of people enrolled. These numbers are due in large part to in-person assisters who helped consumers navigate healthcare.gov and make the best health care enrollment choice for their needs. Funding from HHS was critical in providing this type of assistance. What are your plans for supporting in-person assistance?
Q. With so many new enrollees, many of whom have never had insurance or haven’t had it for a long time, consumer assistance will be very important, but federal support for Consumer Assistance Programs (CAPs) has lapsed. What are your plans to support people so that they can make effective use of their new coverage?
Q. The ACA has moved us forward by expanding coverage, but consumers are still grappling with costs- higher copays and deductibles. There are also still many cracks in the system. Consumers aren’t sure about the quality of the care they are getting. How would you push hospitals, doctors and insurers to provide better care at lower costs?
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