New surgeon general's first job: Boosting ObamaCare signups

The first task for the new surgeon general will be driving up enrollment for ObamaCare – an issue that threatened to derail his confirmation a month ago.

Vivek MurthyVivek Hallegere MurthyThe Hill's Morning Report — Dem ire at Barr intensifies Bill and Chelsea Clinton announce podcast launch for summer Can Scott Gottlieb reverse the opioid crisis? MORE, who was appointed the U.S. Surgeon General last month, is spending two months meeting with local officials and health leaders in 20 cities, in part to remind them that the last day to sign up for ObamaCare is Feb. 15.

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Murthy is fresh off a controversial confirmation fight, which centered on his support for gun control and ObamaCare, and which was delayed more than a year.

Lawmakers, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), had strongly opposed Murthy, blasting him as a dedicated advocate for the president's healthcare law. 

"I’d be reluctant to put into the surgeon general’s office someone who would use that as a bully pulpit to promote a law I think is an historic mistake," Alexander, who leads the Senate health committee, said last month.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Murthy is “reminding community leaders of the February 15th deadline” during his cross-country tour.

The spokesperson said the department has relied on its own leadership as well as surrogates to spread the word about ObamaCare enrollment.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has crisscrossed the country to talk up the enrollment deadline, while the agency has also tapped stars of the Seattle Seahawks and celebrities like Kerry Washington.

Department officials also blanketed the airwaves this week: Marketplace CEO Kevin Counihan spoke to 14 Cox television stations while State Exchange Group director Mayra Alvarez was interviewed 20 times on Latino and African-American radio stations.

Murthy’s first stop was in Birmingham, Ala., where he told local reporters Thursday that healthcare coverage was one of the most important ways to improve community health. The meeting was not open to the press.

The newly confirmed surgeon general has mostly stayed out of the headlines after he was confirmed by the Senate. In the second stop of his tour, he met with members of the U.S. Public Service Corps, a highly trained group that has, mostly recently, focused on curbing the spread of Ebola overseas.

Murthy also met last week with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), speaking about health issues including “tobacco use and the growing influence of the e-cigarette industry,” according to a statement from the senator’s office.  

“As we’ve seen last year, health crises can arise quickly and a Surgeon General can make a real difference in assisting the government’s efforts to protect and inform the public,” Durbin said in a statement.