Xavier Becerra confirmed as the first Latino to head the Health and Human Services Department
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate on Thursday confirmed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as President Joe Biden’s health secretary, holding a key position in the administration’s response to the coronavirus and its ambitious effort to cut costs drugs, expand insurance coverage and eliminate racial disparities in the medical field. care.
The 50-49 vote makes Becerra, 63, the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. The $ 1.4 trillion agency covers health insurance programs, drug safety and approvals, advanced medical research, drug treatment and the welfare of children, including hundreds of migrants from Central America arriving daily at the US-Mexico border.
Becerra has served as California’s attorney general since 2017. He has sued the Trump administration 124 times on a range of political issues, angering conservatives. Previously, he represented a neighborhood in the Los Angeles area at the US House for 24 years. A lawyer, not a doctor, his primary experience with the health care system came in helping pass the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and defending it when Donald Trump was President.
“I understand the enormous challenges we face and our solemn responsibility to be loyal directors of an agency that touches almost every aspect of our lives,” Becerra said recently during her confirmation hearing. “I am honored by the task and I am ready for it.” He comes from a working class Mexican-American family; her father was in road construction and her mother was a secretary.
Leading Republicans dismissed Becerra as unfit. But the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association, among other industry and professional groups, backed his nomination.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that “the distinguishing feature of this candidate’s resume is not his or her expertise in health, medicine or administration – this part of the resume is very brief. What stands out is Mr. Becerra’s involvement in partisan warfare and his far-left ideology.
Becerra had remained reliably liberal for almost a quarter of a century in the House, but he was not seen as a left-wing brand. Its problems were education, immigration and equal treatment for minorities. His profile was that of a quiet insider who could work with Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said the GOP’s arguments against Becerra “were almost ridiculous.” Schumer said Republicans “are complaining loudly that they have no direct experience as a medical professional, even though Republicans voted block” to make pharmaceutical director Alex Azar the health secretary under President Donald Trump.
The Biden administration’s COVID-19 response is already in high gear, led from the White House. Biden has signed his $ 1.9 trillion relief bill and the agencies are making announcements almost daily. But having a health secretary in the mix will make a big difference, said Kathleen Sebelius, who led HHS for much of President Barack Obama’s administration.
“Most of the assets that will be important to this effort are in HHS, and he will have the key coordinating role within the department,” Sebelius said. “It adds a force multiplier and expertise to the efforts already underway.”
The essential components of HHS are the boots on the ground of the coronavirus response.
The Food and Drug Administration oversees vaccines and treatments. Much of the underlying scientific and medical research comes from the National Institutes of Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking the lead to contain the spread of the virus and develop guidelines to safely reopen schools and offices. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide insurance coverage for more than one in three Americans, including vulnerable seniors, as well as many children and low-income people.
Becerra will also be the go-to man for Biden’s health care program, which includes insurance for all Americans, deputizing for Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and tackle lingering racial and ethnic disparities in the system. health. Prescription drugs and health insurance will lead to great legislative battles. Democrats may have to go it alone and once again use the special budget maneuver they relied on to push the COVID-19 relief bill through the Senate without the support of Republicans.
Leslie Dach, former senior HHS adviser in the Obama administration, said Becerra looks set to profit from a change in health care policy.
“It’s a different time and it’s a time of tremendous opportunity in healthcare,” he said. “While the Obama years have been played out against a backdrop of difficult politics and a (health) law yet to earn its stripes, he comes in with a proven and popular law, a question that has won for Democrats. Dach now heads the Protect Our Care advocacy group, which is working to expand coverage.
Becerra’s confirmation in the Senate was a defeat for religious and social conservatives who worked to derail him on his support for abortion rights. During his confirmation hearings, Becerra tried to play down the issue, acknowledging the deep differences over abortion and assuring senators that he would follow the law. The law says that abortion is legal but also that taxpayer money cannot be used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman’s life.