Xavier Becerra, newly confirmed to HHS secretary post (Photo courtesy Build Back Better)
The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed President Biden's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, the recent California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
The 50-49 vote was along party lines, with only GOP Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, voting in favor of confirmation. Collins cited as her reasons Becerra's commitment to rural healthcare and a shared goal of lowering drug prices, according to The Hill.
But Republicans view Becerra as a liberal who supports Medicare for All and who filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over a policy allowing employers to exempt contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act for religious reasons, the report said.
WHAT'S THE IMPACT?
Reaction from both hospital and insurer groups is unanimously in favor of Becerra's confirmation, citing his past support for the Affordable Care Act, his stance to lower drug prices and his work on health equity.
Other groups are already urging him to expand digital health access.
PhRMA released its congratulations amid a more cautious tone.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America president and CEO Stephen J. Ubl said, "The Department of Health and Human Services plays an important role in protecting the health and well-being of the American people and has been a pivotal partner in our efforts to combat the pandemic.
"I wish to congratulate Xavier Becerra for being confirmed to lead the department at this critical moment. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the department under his leadership and working together to help address our nation's leading priorities: getting COVID-19 under control and improving healthcare affordability and access for all Americans."
Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing executive director Lauren Aronson said, "It will be particularly critical for Secretary Becerra to encourage greater prescription drug pricing transparency, foster generic and biosimilar competition, cut through drug companies' blame game by pulling back the misguided Rebate Rule and crack down on Big Pharma's egregious price-gouging and anti-competitive practices."
Dr. Susan R. Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, said, "His leadership will be tested early as he arrives amid a pandemic and challenges to the Affordable Care Act. The AMA believes he is the right person for the job and looks forward to working with him to ensure that all Americans have access to quality healthcare during this perilous time."
Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans said of Becerra, "During his years of service – both as a member of Congress and as California's Attorney General – Secretary Becerra exhibited an unceasing dedication to protecting the health and wellbeing of all Americans.
"Secretary Becerra will provide the strong leadership our nation needs as we work together to overcome the COVID-19 crisis. We look forward to working with him to protect and build upon the Affordable Care Act to expand health coverage for all Americans, address the underlying cost of healthcare, and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in medical care."
America' Essential Hospitals president and CEO Dr. Bruce Siegel said, "Becerra brings to the Department of Health and Human Services a strong record of accomplishments as a champion for healthcare coverage and equity. We welcome his experience and commitment to healthcare access as we continue the fight against COVID-19.
"America's Essential Hospitals looks forward to working with the new secretary and his team to enhance support for essential hospitals and underrepresented people and to protect programs vital to our health care safety net, such as Medicaid and the 340B Drug Pricing Program."
Margaret A. Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, said, "As we've said before, Secretary Becerra is unequivocally qualified to run HHS, as a longtime supporter of equitable access to comprehensive, affordable health coverage and care.
"ACAP and our Safety Net Health Plan members stand ready to help Secretary Becerra address the multitude of healthcare issues currently facing the American public – from the COVID-19 pandemic, to all-too-frequent churn within the Medicaid program, unacceptable racial disparities in healthcare access and quality, and the loosening of ACA rules that had protected consumers from harmful junk insurance plans."
Blue Cross Blue Shield Association president and CEO Kim Keck said "We congratulate Xavier Becerra on his confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services and look forward to working with him to address longstanding racial health inequities, combat the COVID-19 pandemic and make healthcare work better for everyone.
"As California's Attorney General, Becerra was a key defender of the Affordable Care Act, expressing his support of the law and the protections it provides Americans. We agree that the ACA is the best path forward to achieve universal coverage and that we need to build on it to make healthcare more affordable and accessible for everyone."
THE LARGER TREND
Biden nominated Becerra to lead HHS in December. He will be the first Latino to lead the department.
When he is sworn in, Becerra will face the challenge of making healthcare policy decisions that may come up against a Supreme Court in which six of the nine Justices were appointed by Republicans.
A Supreme Court challenge of the Affordable Care Act is expected to be decided by June. Other healthcare issues include the reported case of the Supreme Court reinstating a requirement that women pick up abortion pills in person.
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