Some Republicans are questioning The appointment of President Biden as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Xavier Becerra, since he is not a doctor or someone with a solid background in health.
“I’m not sold yet”, Senate HELP Ranking Richard Burr (R-NC) said Becerra on Tuesday. “I’m not sure if you have the experience or skills to do this job right now.”
Only one HHS secretary in the 21st century had a doctor, Dr. Tom Price, (although Price is a member of a group of doctors who are considered politics ahead of science), and several prominent experts told Yahoo Finance that Becerra is a high-quality choice, given its experience in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.
“He has been a leader in everything from expanded access to insurance coverage to high quality healthcare,” Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary from 2009 to 2014, told Yahoo Finance. “He is one of the greatest experts I would say in the country about the Affordable Care Act, both in its design characteristics and in the defense of the law in court. But he also did important work for children, families and immigrant children, which was one of the areas of great concern when he served in Congress. “
Becerra served in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2017 before moving to the position of California attorney general. Their appointment occurs at a time when the Obamacare fate it is up to the Supreme Federal Court, which is debating the constitutionality of the historic health bill after a Texas judge ruled it unconstitutional in December 2018.
“His defense of the Affordable Care Act is the most notable item, which probably means that he will continue to advocate for expanding coverage,” Chris Meekins, policy analyst at Raymond James in Washington, told Yahoo Finance. Meekins also noted that Becerra’s choice “regenerates the perception that most health policy is likely to be driven by the White House, not the Department. [of HHS]. “
‘So bet on preserving and expanding ACA’
Becerra served in Congress for 12 terms and was a senior member of the health subcommittee of the Forms and Means Committee. Upon being elected attorney general of California in 2017, he became one of ACA’s leading advocates with his office frequently filing lawsuits (More than 100) against the Trump administration, most notably the case of Texas vs California, that challenges Obamacare’s constitutionality.
“I would challenge the notion that he has no health training,” said Sebelius. “The political work he did for his constituents in his district was often about health care. He served on the Forms and Means Committee, which was a major area of jurisdiction on Health and Human Services. He is very familiar with the department and the budget. “
Larry Levitt, executive vice president of health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, agreed with the assessment that Becerra’s strength lies in his experience related to Obamacare.
“It would be difficult to find someone in the country who was so committed to preserving and expanding ACA,” Levitt told Yahoo Finance. “Setting up as attorney general was the main legal advocate for efforts to overthrow the ACA and the courts. Therefore, he is well involved in all the complexities of the law and comes from a state that has been one of the most proactive in implementing ACA since the beginning. So, I think it is certainly a good choice to reinvigorate the Affordable Care Act. “
Invigorating ACA is a fundamental part of Biden’s health agenda, which some have dubbed “Bidencare”. Biden’s plan is essentially based on Obamacare, filling existing gaps, such as increased subsidies, expanding eligibility for Medicare, and potentially creating a public health option.
Becerra “has been a leader in everything from expanding access to insurance coverage to high quality healthcare,” said Sebelius. “He is one of the greatest experts I would say in the country about the Affordable Care Act, both in its design characteristics and in the defense of the law in court. But he also did important work for children, families and immigrant children, which was one of the areas of great concern when he served in Congress. “
On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order opening a new “Special Registration Period”, which reopens access to the ACA market, but outside open registration. His order gave Americans 90 days to find health insurance.
“Bidencare is actually a bigger and stronger ACA,” said Levitt. “There are some parts of the Biden platform that are not part of the COVID relief discussions that will be controversial and likely to be difficult to pass, including a public option and reducing Medicare’s eligibility age to 60. But assuming Becerra is confirmed, filling in the details of Biden’s larger health plan will likely be immediately on your to-do list. ”
Priorities one, two and three: COVID
The United States is not yet out of danger with the coronavirus pandemic, as the country just got over the limit of 500,000 deaths earlier in the week.
And although Becerra has no public health experience, several experts agree that he should not disqualify him for the role of HHS. However, they agreed, addressing the pandemic must be among their top priorities when confirmed.
“COVID is certainly one, two and three for President Biden and will be for Becerra if he is confirmed as well,” said Levitt. “One area where President Biden has already put some emphasis and can be a high priority for Becerra is to address racial inequalities in health. There are some smaller programs within the HHS that address racial disparities and there are some levers that Becerra could use to push for a fairer health system. It was already a priority for the Biden government and I hoped it would go to Becerra too. “
The pandemic revealed wide disparities in the American health care system – the black and Latin communities were devastated by COVID-19. A study found that blacks and Hispanics were responsible for almost 60% of COVID-19 hospitalizations between January and July 2020.
Becerra has never been ashamed of dealing with racial and health inequalities before. After he was revealed to be Biden’s nominated HHS, he tweeted: “As Secretary of Health and Human Services, I will take advantage of our progress and ensure that all Americans have access to affordable, quality health care – during this pandemic and beyond.”
“We are in a unique moment, when Latinos were hit hard by the pandemic,” said Levitt. “Having the first Latin as HHS secretary has an important symbolic meaning.”
Adriana is a reporter and editor who covers health policy and policies for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on twitter @adrianambells.
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