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Burwell Calls For Congress To Work With Her On Health Issues

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell Thursday called on Congress to look beyond the Affordable Care Act to find compromise on health care.

In remarks at the New America Foundation, Burwell cited several areas – including opioid abuse, Ebola, medical research and innovation – where Republicans and Democrats have sponsored legislation to work together to solve problems in the nation’s health care system.

As she has before, Burwell defended the health overhaul and urged Congress to “move beyond the back and forth of the Affordable Care Act and focus on the substance of access, affordability and quality.”  She makes no apologies for the law, which Republicans have voted numerous times to repeal in full or in part. That effort is expected to be part of the discussions this week at Republican lawmakers’ retreats.

Senate Health Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing For Sylvia Burwell To Lead The Health And Human Services Dept.

HHS Sec. Sylvia Mathews Burwell testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health Committee in May. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But those disagreements should not stop Congress from also focusing on “other critical areas in health care where our common interests give us ample opportunities for common good – improving the quality of the care we receive while spending our dollars more wisely, reducing substance use disorders and overdose deaths, strengthening global health security, reaffirming American leadership in research, innovation and science, and building an innovation economy,” Burwell said.

In a statement, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the new chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, welcomed Burwell’s remarks and said he looked forward to working with her.

“We have plenty we disagree on, but we also have plenty of issues that are important to millions of Americans upon which we should be able to get results, including, for example, getting life-saving drugs, treatments and devices through the FDA to patients faster; remodeling the health care delivery system; and improving global health security,” he said.

While repealing or replacing the health law is an avowed target for many in the GOP, Republicans are likely more eager to work with the administration on legislation to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and to overhaul the way Medicare pays physicians, known as the sustainable growth rate, Burwell said.

“I think those fall into the category of things where I think there will be bipartisan support,” she said. “I think those are very clearly legislative issues that Congress will take the lead in terms of timetable and focus. … I see both of those in that category of greater possibility for working together.”

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