The Senate Should Act Now To Confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy For Surgeon General
With no new cases of Ebola in the United States in nearly a month, Ebola Czar Ron Klain has decided to return to the private sector. We are thankful that the disease appears to be under control here at home (it continues to spread in West Africa). But Klain’s departure offers a reminder of the current gap that exists for addressing public health crises in this country.
There’s an appointed position in the federal government for the nation’s top doctor and health communicator-in-chief. That position, which has been vacant since July 2013, is the Surgeon General. President Obama’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, is a highly qualified nominee with broad support from the medical community. But a familiar villain, the NRA, has successfully stalled Murthy’s confirmation for over a year. And if the Senate doesn’t act this week, the NRA could kill the confirmation altogether.
Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, has indisputable credentials to be Surgeon General. He is a practicing physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. He is an educator at Harvard Medical School. He is the founder of a medical technology company, a community health partnership in rural India, and a 16,000-strong network of physicians and medical students committed to strengthening America’s healthcare system. And he has the endorsements of more than 100 national organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Hospital Association, and the American College of Physicians.
Murthy, however, has drawn the ire of the NRA because he, like many others in the public health field, has acknowledged the link between gun violence and public health. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s surgeon generals, C. Everett Koop and Louis W. Sullivan, took the same position. But that hasn’t stopped the powerful gun lobby from flexing its muscle to Republicans and red-state Democrats who as of now haven’t dared to cross it.
But that could be changing. This week is the pivotal week for Murthy’s nomination to be brought to the floor. It’s the last week before the Senate heads home for the holidays and the GOP-controlled Senate takes over in 2015, when any of President Obama’s nominees will be much harder to get through. Murthy only needs a clean majority of votes to be confirmed, and a number of influential votes have lent their support in recent days: Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mark Udall (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are a few who have publicly come out in support of Murthy.
BOTTOM LINE: America needs its top doc, and Vivek Murthy is the qualified leader the Senate should confirm immediately. The country has gone through multiple public health crises in the last year and half without a surgeon general that have required temporary outside leadership. It shouldn’t go through any more without a surgeon general in place. When it comes to public health, Murthy knows what he’s doing; the NRA doesn’t. Now is the time for the Senate to act.