Leavitt Confirmed as HHS Secretary
On January 26, Michael O. Leavitt was sworn in as the 20th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As HHS Secretary, he will command an annual budget in excess of $548 billion and will oversee more than 66,600 federal employees, including those of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Prior to his current service, Secretary Leavitt served as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and as Governor of Utah. He is widely recognized as a health care innovator and welfare reformer. In 1994, the Utah legislature passed then-Governor Leavitt's "HealthPrint," a comprehensive, incremental approach to health care improvement in the state. A decade later, Utah has more than 400,000 additional people with health insurance, marked increases in the number of children with health care coverage, and per capita cost of healthcare 25 percent below the national average.
Secretary Leavitt also has an accomplished record on cancer control and outreach. During his service as Governor of Utah, he joined with the Huntsman Cancer Institute to draw attention to the high incidence of skin cancer among Utahns through Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. Also under his leadership, the state launched the Utah Cancer Action Network, a consortium of 70 agencies and individuals that were "champions" of cancer issues. Secretary Leavitt is also a former member of the Board of Directors of the American Legacy Foundation, an organization established in the 1998 settlement agreement between 46 state attorneys general and the tobacco industry to reduce tobacco usage in the United States.
Said President Bush upon nominating Leavitt to this post, "He is an ideal choice to lead one of the largest departments of the United States government. [HHS] touches the life of every person in this country. To meet [its] responsibilities, the Department needs…a leader who is able to act on many fronts all at once."
NCI director Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach stated, "I look forward to working with Secretary Leavitt to reduce the burden of cancer on our society. Given his passion and record of leadership in the area of cancer control in Utah, as well as his leadership and interest in the area of health care technology, I believe there is a lot we in the cancer community can learn at this critical time in the fight."
Secretary Leavitt's commitment to using technology to improve the quality of care, reduce mistakes, and manage costs was evident in one of his first public appearances after his appointment as HHS Secretary. Just one day removed from his Senate confirmation, he joined President Bush in Cleveland to talk about the importance of adapting emerging technologies for computerizing medical recordkeeping and electronic prescriptions.
Secretary Leavitt has a bachelor's degree in economics and business from Southern Utah University. He succeeds former Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who in a letter to HHS staff earlier this week praised HHS for its accomplishments during his tenure, stating that, "We've lived up to our reputation as the Department of Compassion by helping to spread hope and opportunity to those who need it most in America and around the world. This work truly is a noble calling, and I urge you to continue to pursue it with seriousness and great humility."
By Jo-Ann Kriebel