President-elect Joe Biden is nominating lawyer Xavier Becerra as HHS Secretary. The former Democrat congressman and now Attorney General for California will head the Department of Health and Human Services. Earlier, Biden called Becerra last Friday and offered him the job.
If Becerra receives confirmation, he will become the first Latino head of the HHS. His appointment is part of Biden’s commitment to assembling a more diverse lineup of Cabinet officials. Among Becerra’s goals include re-establishing public trust with the HHS in light of the coronavirus.
Biden’s Health Official Nominees
Becerra leads a group of nominees taking over key federal positions. Joining him is Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. Walensky will take over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She replaces Trump’s appointee Dr. Robert R. Redfield. Next is Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general under the Obama administration. Murthy will reprise the surgeon general role. Plus, Murthy will also serve as one of the President’s closest medical advisers.
Meanwhile, the popular head of the CDC’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci will keep his role. Additionally, he will take on an additional role as Biden’s chief medical adviser. A non-medical person, Jeffrey D. Zients, will serve as coronavirus czar. He previously served as Obama’s head for the National Economic Council. This time, he will serve as a coordinator between the government’s various agencies in matters pertaining to the virus.
Affordable Health Care Act Advocate
As California Attorney General, Becerra led 20 states in campaigning for the retention of the Affordable Care Act. Due to his experience, the incoming administration expects more of the same from him. For Biden’s first two years, the Dem’s majority in the House dwindled considerably. Meanwhile, the Senate majority will likely remain in the GOP’s hands. As a result, any legislative action to strengthen the ACA would likely meet resistance.
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Appointing Becerra can help bolster the ACA through executive and administrative actions. In particular, his Stanford law degree, plus experience as California attorney general could prove useful in maneuvering through the bureaucracy.
In his role as attorney general to a Blue state, Becerra showed his mettle as a fierce Anti-Trump lawyer. California filed more than 100 suits against the President and his administration. The suits mostly covered the environment, immigration, and health. Last June, he filed a brief in the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling against the ACA’s legality. “The A.C.A. has been life-changing and now through this pandemic, we can all see the value in having greater access to quality health care at affordable prices. Now is not the time to rip away our best tool to address very real and very deadly health disparities in our communities,” he wrote.
More than half of California’s lawsuits are over environmental policies that the Trump White House either removed or installed. Apart from the environment, Becerra also played a prominent role in defending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Specifically, DACA is a program enacted by the previous administration that protects undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children. In addition, Becerra is a known stalwart and championed women’s health within the Democratic Party.
Big Health Care Issues
Becerra has long advocated for the ACA. And because of this, some see his appointment as Biden’s best way of protecting the health mandate. Larry Levitt, EVP for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said “Becerra has tackled some of the big health care issues he would face as HHS secretary, including reinvigorating the ACA and taming health care costs. In addition, he thinks Becerra possesses “a demonstrated ability to speak to the public about the complexity of health care issues, which is an important part of the job.”
Apart from the ACA, Becerra also aimed at other erring medical companies. In 2018, he sued Sutter Health, a Northern California operation with 12,000 doctors in 24 hospitals. He charged Sutter with anti-competitive practices aimed at cornering the market. Consequently, their practices led to higher prices among patients. A year later, Sutter settled by changing some of its practices and paying $575 million.
Watch the CBS Sacramento News reporting on President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as nominee for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services:
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