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Opening Statement of Chairman Michael B. Enzi
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
On the Nomination of Michael Leavitt
To Serve as
Secretary of Health and Human Services
January 18, 2005

Good morning and welcome to today's hearing on the nomination of Michael Leavitt to serve as our Secretary of Health and Human Services. It is a pleasure to welcome Governor Leavitt and all those in attendance for what I am certain will be an interesting and informative dialogue on the future of our nation's health care system.

Governor Leavitt and I worked together far back in my legislative career when he helped found the Western Governors University. Welcome, Wyoming neighbor. From your service as Utah's Governor you have an understanding of the unique problems our rural states face on health care issues as well as issues from your Salt Lake City experience. It is good to know you will be bringing a diverse perspective to your job at the Department of Health and Human Services.

During the President's first term, we made some important health care reforms that we must continue to monitor and improve. A prescription drug benefit for Medicare is now on the books – an option that will have a dramatic effect on the costs borne by our nation's seniors for their medical care. In addition, the option of health savings accounts has been expanded to provide seniors and the young with an incentive to invest in these tax free health insurance alternatives. Finally, more than 600 community health centers have been opened or expanded to serve low-income and uninsured people across the country.

There is still much left to do. Fortunately, you have the skills and abilities to help keep our health care system responsive and our safety net intact to protect the most vulnerable among us.

It is clear from your record that you have a great appreciation of the importance of the family, the most local level from which to address the problems that face our nation. Our families are the cornerstone of our society and the building blocks of our communities.

As you work on the health care issues that affect our families so directly, Congress will work with you. In fact, we must work together and focus on results if we are to keep the promises we have made in our work on health initiatives.

When you are sworn in, you will be overseeing a budget of several hundred billion dollars and administering the operation of more than 230 programs that affect all Americans of every age. You will also have more people looking over your shoulder as you work than anyone else. Since every American takes his or her health care personally, you will have more bosses than any other worker in the world. We need to ensure their continued access to their family doctor, keep the treatments their doctor prescribes available and affordable, and make sure that health insurance companies don't forget about care as they work to control costs.

President Bush has set forth his vision for improving health care and patient safety through better and more widespread use of information technology. Senator Kennedy and I share that vision and we have already begun our discussions on how we can help to make it a reality. I look forward to working with you and Senator Kennedy, and our colleagues on this Committee, to bring health care information technology into the 21st Century.

I intend to focus on bioterrorism and public health preparedness in this Congress. This will build upon the great work this Committee did last year to pass President Bush's Project Bioshield into law.

President Bush has proposed placing a community health care center or rural health clinic in the poorest counties. Such an effort will be a key part of any effort to address the problem of expanding access to low cost health care to those who lack health insurance. I think you will find the members of this Committee to be supportive of your efforts on that matter, too.

In Wyoming, we have only one community health center right now. That means we have a lot of counties that need one but we don't have the money to provide one because most of our counties are the size of Connecticut. Fortunately, the unique challenges of providing services to areas that have great distances between them is something well known to you. I am looking forward to working with you on how we can best address that problem.

Most people are concerned about their health insurance coverage and cost. They want policies that are more affordable and accessible with more options. I believe we can come up with creative solutions to make our medical liability system work better for patients and providers.

And then there are the front page issues. At the forefront is our system of approving drugs and ensuring their safety. We must be sure the Food and Drug Administration is able to completely review and monitor the use of the medications they approve in a timely manner.

We also need to review the flu vaccine shortage, find out what happened and come up with a plan that will prevent it from happening again. We have to encourage more companies to come back to the vaccine business. Relying on a couple of companies to produce one of our most critical and popular vaccines is a recipe for disaster.

I don't want to get into a laundry list of all the issues that will come up, but there is a lot on our mutual "To Do" list.

I want to assure you of the Committee's willingness to work with you and the President to craft solutions to the healthcare challenges we face as a nation.

Thank you again for being with us today. I am looking forward to hearing your ideas and plans for the Department of Health and Human Services and later having some informal sessions to visit with you again.