Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, a 36-year-old attending physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, will be nominated by President Obama to become the nation’s 19th surgeon general.
In a White House statement, Obama announced his intention Thursday to name Murthy to the position. If approved by the US Senate, Murthy, who helped found and run a number of medical organizations, would assume the role of America’s chief doctor at a trying time for the Obama administration’s health care policy.
The federal website established under the Affordable Care Act, healthcare.gov, continues to be plagued by bugs, and the administration has struggled this week to address complaints that citizens with health insurance that does not meet the act’s standards are losing their policies.
Just hours before Murthy’s nomination was announced, Obama said in a press conference that he will allow health insurance companies to provide coverage that falls short of the new standards for one year, giving some relief to those losing out.
Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, a fellow and managing director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institution, said Murthy had long supported health care reform.
“For years, really, on his own time, he has dedicated himself to health insurance, to health coverage for people who are needy, and been a tireless advocate for the president’s Affordable Care Act,” said Sanghavi, a Brookline resident.
Sanghavi said Murthy would be an adept spokesman for the plan, which had been reviled by congressional Republicans before its recent setbacks.
“I think that, especially given where we’re at now, the difficulties with the rollout of the exchange, [Obama is] looking for somebody who is an effective advocate for his health care plan,” Sanghavi said. “[Murthy] understands the act very well. He’s hugely supportive of it, and he has some of the real skills to bring together patients and physicians to support it, even in tough times.”
Murthy, a Brookline resident originally from Miami, was vacationing with family and could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Dr. Betsy Nabel, president of Brigham and Women’s, said in a statement that Murthy would be “an exceptional surgeon general.”
“We share a belief that access to quality health care is a basic human right,” Nabel said. “I am confident that he will be a passionate advocate and that he will have an extraordinary impact as our nation’s surgeon general.”
Dr. Allen B. Kachalia, associate chief quality officer for the hospital, said in response to e-mailed questions that Murthy had devoted much of his adult life to building coalitions and improving access.
“Not only is Dr. Murthy a great clinician, he has long been organizing efforts to help improve health care since he was in college,” Kachalia said. “He has repeatedly shown that he can build grass-roots efforts and bring people together to create meaningful change.”
In 2009, Murthy founded Doctors for America, which is composed of 16,000 doctors and medical students across the country and states that its mission is to improve the quality of health and health care.
The organization has been a strong advocate of the Affordable Care Act both before and after its passage, according to the group’s website. Murthy, who has served as president of Doctors for America since its inception, was present when Obama signed the bill into law, the group said.
On Wednesday, the organization’s executive director, Dr. Alice Chen, reasserted its support for the law after its controversial rollout.
“We know there is still much work to be done to reach the millions of uninsured Americans who are not aware of the new options now available,” Chen said in a statement.
She congratulated Murthy for the nomination in a statement Thursday.
“He has a tremendous dedication and commitment to improving the lives and health of Americans,” Chen said. “He brings two decades of experience as a champion in improving health, building coalitions, and bringing diverse people together to bring better health to communities.”
Murthy also serves on the US Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health, which was created by the Affordable Care Act. He was appointed to the group by Obama in 2011, the White House said.
Murthy attended Harvard University as an undergraduate. He has a doctor of medicine degree and a master’s degree in business administration from Yale University.
In 2007, he founded TrialNetworks, a technology company, the White House said. The company designs applications for pharmaceutical and biotech companies to use in clinical trials, according to the its website. Murthy is chairman of TrialNetwork’s board.
In 1995, Murthy founded VISIONS Worldwide, a nonprofit dedicated to education on HIV and AIDS in India, said the White House statement.
A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health could not be reached for comment on the nomination late Thursday night.
The nomination was one of five announced Thursday. In a statement, Obama praised the nominees.
“I am confident that these outstanding individuals will greatly serve the American people in their new roles, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come,” the president said.
The nominations included Marc Kastner, dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to be director of the Office of Science in the US Department of Energy.