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HHS Nominee Becerra Testifies in Second Confirmation Hearing, Vote Awaits

Analysis  |  By Jack O'Brien  
   February 24, 2021

Becerra testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee ahead of a likely confirmation vote.

Xavier Becerra, the Attorney General of California and President Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday afternoon ahead of a likely confirmation vote.

This was the second confirmation hearing for Becerra; he spoke in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Tuesday morning.

As was the case during the first hearing, questions during Wednesday's hearing centered around Becerra's plan to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Biden administration's plan to build on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), reduce racial health disparities, and monitor healthcare consolidation.

Related: 5 Takeaways From HHS Nominee Becerra's First Senate Confirmation Hearing

In contrast to the HELP hearing, there was also an increased focus on the federal government's role in funding mental health services and Becerra's record on abortion rights.

Becerra also promised that the Office of Minority Health would have "real prominence" if he is confirmed as HHS Secretary.

Related: With Becerra as HHS Pick, California Plots More Progressive Health Care Agenda

Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked if the Biden administration would support the Wyden-Grassley bipartisan prescription drug bill, to which Becerra promised to work together in an effort to lower costs for consumers. Becerra also told Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., that he would work to curb prescription drug shortages.

In response to another question from Grassley, Becerra highlighted his work to protect rural providers and combat industry consolidation as California Attorney General. He underscored the importance of rural hospitals and the social determinants of health (SDOH) in response to a question from Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wy.

"Any time a community is impacted where it loses jobs, access to care, schools, you're going to see an impact," Becerra said. "I want to make sure that we're doing everything possible so that families, wherever they locate, have the opportunities that we expect in America,"

Becerra told Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., that he was committed to supporting the 340B Drug Pricing Program and will seek to boost telehealth, adding that virtual care services will only continue to expand.

Regarding health insurance, Becerra committed to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, that he would hold private payers accountable and reign in Medicare overpayments to protect consumers. 

Csrxp cheers Becerra agenda

Lauren Aronson, executive director for the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP), a coalition that claims PCMA, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the American Hospital Association, and other major industry groups as members, told HealthLeaders that Becerra will "provide the leadership necessary advance the public health of our nation."

Aronson said that the organization hopes Becerra will continue two policies promoted by former HHS Secretary Alex Azar: increasing manufacturer liability in the catastrophic phase of Medicare Part D and efforts to bring transparency to list prices by requiring drug companies to disclose prices in direct-to-consumer advertising.

"CSRxP looks forward to working with Attorney General Becerra 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," Aronson said. "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."

Former Trump HHS official bashes Becerra nomination

Roger Severino is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., directing the organization's HHS Accountability Project. Severino previously served as director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS under President Donald Trump.

Severino told HealthLeaders that Becerra is "unfit for the role" and that his nomination is "imperiled and headed for defeat."

Severino, like many Republican senators in both confirmation hearings, cast doubt on Becerra's qualifications to lead HHS, stating that he "just doesn't have the experience" to "lead the largest health organization in the world" during a pandemic.

He also described Becerra as a "cultural warrior" rather than a public health advocate.

"In a time of a national pandemic, we should have somebody with experience and a focus on improving people's health, as opposed to a focus on expanding abortion on demand," Severino said. "Becerra's positions make him unfit for the position of HHS Secretary; the American people deserve better, especially in this time of crisis."

Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Washington, USA 12 7 2020 xavier becerra is an american politician Washington, DC, vasilis asvestas / Shutterstock

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