Sebelius named HHS secretary, faces swine flu challenge

Share this content:
The Senate late Tuesday confirmed Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The approval comes as the country grapples with a growing swine flu threat.

As of press time, a total of 64 cases of the flu were confirmed in the United States. At least seven were hospitalized. Nursing homes had not been affected.

Criticism has been mounting over Congress' decision to cut nearly $900 million in funding for flu pandemic preparedness from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, according to USA Today. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is being roundly blamed for the decision. One of three Republican supporters of the package, Collins, at the time, argued that the $870 million flu preparedness proposal would not jump-start the economy, which was the main objective of the stimulus package.

Though many are deriding the decision as shortsighted, there is no evidence that current efforts to fight the swine flu pandemic are being hampered by the lack of stimulus package funding, USA Today reports. The money would have been the final installment of a more than $7 billion flu pandemic preparedness venture embarked upon by the Bush administration. According to one senatorial spokesman, however, even with the $870 million, the U.S. would not be ready to deal with a pandemic yet, though the swine flu outbreak reminds us we need to be prepared, according to USA Today. 

The confirmation of Sebelius (D), governor of Kansas, will allow for other critical positions to be filled in the department, including the post of administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Sebelius became President Obama's pick for the department head after Tom Daschle dropped out as nominee.