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Biden names California AG Xavier Becerra as secretary of Health and Human Services

If confirmed, Becerra will be the first Latino to lead the department.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

California AG Xavier Becerra (Photo courtesy Build Back Better)California AG Xavier Becerra (Photo courtesy Build Back Better)

President-elect Joe Biden has announced California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as secretary of Health and Human Services, along with other key healthcare appointments in his incoming administration.

Becerra, who will replace current HHS Secretary Alex Azar, is a former member of Congress who helped drive passage of the Affordable Care Act and led the defense of the law in the Supreme Court last month. If confirmed, Becerra will be the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Vivek Murthy will be Surgeon General, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky will serve as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Murthy currently serves as co-chair of Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board. 

Walensky, who will replace Robert Redfield as head of the CDC, is chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She currently serves as co-chair of Biden's COVID-19 transition Advisory Board.

Dr. Anthony Fauci will continue on in his role as chief medical advisor to the president on COVID-19. Fauci will also continue in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Other Biden picks include: Healthcare disparity expert Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith as COVID-19 equity task force chair; Jeff Zients, coordinator of the COVID-19 response and counselor to the president; and former White House and Pentagon senior advisor Natalie Quillian as deputy coordinator of the COVID-19 response.

Together, they will advise Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on implementing the government's response to surge testing and tracing in order to slow the spread of the virus, protect frontline workers, and ensure the safe and efficient delivery of treatments and vaccines at no cost to the American people, according to Biden's transition website, Build Back Better.

"This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced – getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones," Biden said.

"This team of world-class medical experts and public servants will be ready on day one to mobilize every resource of the federal government to expand testing and masking, oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines, re-open schools and businesses safely, lower prescription drug and other health costs and expand affordable healthcare to all Americans, and rally the country and restore the belief that there is nothing beyond America's capacity if we do it together."

WHY THIS MATTERS

Reaction has been positive from the American Hospital Association, the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP) and America's Health Insurance Plans.

Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said, "(Becerra) has been a champion for affordable health access and coverage, which the AHA has supported, and he has consistently made people across America and their health a priority. There are many critical priorities facing the healthcare field right now, and the patients and communities we care for. Nothing is more critical than the COVID-19 pandemic, and making sure hospitals, health systems and our heroic frontline caregivers have the resources and support they need to care for patients and win the battle against the virus.

"We also need to make important progress on advancing the transformation of healthcare, ensuring access to coverage, making health care equitable to all people in America and enhancing the quality of care."

Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans congratulated the choice of HHS secretary and that of other key positions.  

"These leaders will face several critical national priorities, including overcoming the COVID-19 crisis, improving health equity, advancing health care affordability and access, improving quality of care, and ensuring the stability of markets," Eyles said. "Strong public-private partnerships are essential to achieving these goals, and health insurance providers are eager to assist the Biden health team, continuing to provide their combined expertise, insights, and resources as a valuable private sector partner for the benefit of all Americans."

CSRxP executive director Lauren Aronson said, "Attorney General Becerra has a demonstrated track record of standing up for consumers and CSRxP looks forward to working with him and the administration to advance market-based solutions to lower prescription drug prices, cut through drug companies' blame game by pulling back the misguided Rebate Rule and hold Big Pharma accountable. It will be particularly critical for the next HHS secretary to encourage greater prescription drug pricing transparency, foster generic and biosimilar competition and crack down on Big Pharma's egregious price-gouging and anti-competitive practices."

THE LARGER TREND

Biden is moving ahead with his transition team as President Trump continues not to acknowledge his own loss in the presidential election. 

Biden and Harris will be inaugurated on January 20.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com