Friday, October 30, 2009
By voice vote, the U.S. Senate Thursday night confirmed Dr. Regina Benjamin to serve as Surgeon General. Benjamin, 53, was the first black woman to head a state medical society, received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights and just last fall received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, she rebuilt her rural health clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala., which serves 4,400 patients who would be hard-pressed to find care elsewhere.
Benjamin was nominated by President Barack Obama in July, but a month later Republicans put a hold on all health nominees because the administration had imposed a "gag rule" on companies offering Medicare Advantage to seniors. Those companies were sending out information to customers telling them that a Democratic healthcare reform proposal would cut benefits. The Department of Health and Human Services issued a memo in mid-October telling companies they can provide information about legislation that affects them if their customers agree to receive such information.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blasted Republicans on Thursday for holding up the nomination of Benjamin and other nominees for reasons "completely unrelated to their qualification." In Benjamin's case, concern had been expressed about holding up the confirmation of one of the nation's leading spokespersons on public health when the H1N1 epidemic was spreading.