You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

EDITORIAL: The new face of Obamacare?

The president picks a cheerleader for surgeon general

- - Monday, February 3, 2014

Obamacare isn't popular, and nobody knows it better than President Obama. In an interview with Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, Mr. Obama danced around the question of why he hasn't fired Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the face of the fiasco.

The president may have found a new cheerleader for Obamacare in Dr. Vivek Murthy, an English-born, Boston-based physician nominated to become surgeon general. His chief qualification appears to be that in 2008 he founded Doctors for Obama — now called Doctors for America. Doctors for America is a physicians association linked by umbilical cord to Obamacare.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will decide whether to recommend that the 36-year-old Dr. Murthy will get the uniform of a vice admiral — the summer whites with gold braid are particularly dashing — that comes with the position as head of the Public Health Service.

We can expect the majority Democrats to shift the discussion to the nominee, educated at both Harvard and Yale, having helped start a rural health program in Sringeri, India, and an AIDS program for young people in both India and the United States. Dr. Murthy's roots are in India.

The last thing committee Democrats want to hear are the concerns of a former surgeon general with bipartisan bona fides, who warned the White House against nominating such a "relatively inexperienced and untested physician" who shouldn't be considered for the post so early in his career.

Dr. Richard H. Carmona served for four years as surgeon general in the administration of a Republican, President George W. Bush, and then ran for the U.S. Senate from Arizona as a Democrat, losing in 2012 to Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican.

In a letter to President Obama, Dr. Carmona wrote that a nominee without substantial public health experience or work in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps would be at a "distinct disadvantage in credibility, knowledge, and depth and breadth of experience when attempting to address complex public health issues."

The surgeon general may not have to be an advocate for public health. He may be assigned to attack-dog duties. Dr. Carmona went out of his way to endear himself to Democrats after leaving the office by criticizing the Bush administration for suppressing scientific findings that conflicted with the administration's ideological agenda.

There's every likelihood that the founder of an Obama campaign booster club won't resist being a shill for the administration's health care takeover.

Dr. Murthy has even hinted that the surgeon general's office might be a bully pulpit to promote gun control as a "health" issue. "Signs of progress," he tweeted last April, "we got 20 votes in the Senate in favor of gun-violence legislation that we wouldn't have had a year ago. Have faith."

Committee Republicans must grill the nominee about his intended use of the office in service of Democratic priorities wholly unrelated to medicine.

A fight over the nomination is unlikely. With Senate Democrats having blown up confirmation rules, Mr. Obama's most controversial nominees can get through the Senate with a mere 51 votes.

Dr. Murthy is likely, but by no means certain, to get a confirming vote after a rubber stamp from Harry Reid. Several red-state Democratic incumbent senators up for re-election in November would be wise to consider whether to distance themselves from the new face of Obamacare in the interests of their own survival.