Sorian to leave Health and Human Services this week

WASHINGTON: Richard Sorian, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will vacate his post effective this Thursday.

WASHINGTON: Richard Sorian, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will vacate his post effective this Thursday.

Sorian was a recess appointment made by President Barack Obama in August 2010. He will leave the position because federal law dictates that the US Senate must approve recess appointments by the end of the following calendar year. Congress' upper chamber has made no such move, he said.

Sorian will take the rest of the year off, then return to HHS for a short stint in January to finish ongoing projects as a senior adviser to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Dori Salcido, deputy assistant secretary, will begin serving as acting assistant secretary for public affairs on December 16.  

In a Tuesday morning email to HHS senior leadership, Sebelius noted that Sorian provided strategic direction “during an incredibly demanding period” that included communicating with the public about provisions of the landmark Affordable Care Act.

“I want to thank him for his contributions to the department and to the people we serve,” she said in the email.

Sorian added that he is proud of his work on several communications initiatives for the Affordable Care Act, including creating the content for Healthcare.gov. The website educated consumers about the bill's provisions. Ten million people have visited the site in the last 18 months, he said.

Sorian added that he also had a hand in developing the “Share the News, Share the Health” campaign that promoted free screening and immunization services for Medicare beneficiaries.

“What we've been trying to do is make [the bill] real for people,” he explained. “The fact is many people don't know there is a law. They think it's still being debated in Congress.”

However, he said, HHS could have pushed harder to combat misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, specifically the idea that it created “death panels” for senior citizens.

“When people make absurd claims, you think no one is going to believe that, so you don't hit back at it as hard as you should,” Sorian said. “It is much more difficult to put a lie back in the can than it is letting it out, no matter how many campaigns or media outreaches you do.”

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