Capitol Correspondence - 12.17.20

Profile: Who Is Xavier Becerra, the Biden Transition Team’s Pick for Health and Human Services Secretary?

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Because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the main federal agency overseeing Medicaid disability supports, the appointment of its Secretary can greatly influence how the Department develops or revises new and existing policies. So that our members understand the political context in which ANCOR’s advocacy will begin unfolding once the Biden administration takes office, we are diving deeper into the nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for Secretary of HHS, and the outstanding policies from the Trump administration which he could review.

Xavier Becerra’s background: As reported by the New York Times, “Mr. Becerra, 62, served 12 terms in Congress, representing Los Angeles, before becoming the attorney general of his home state in 2017. He is the first Latino to hold that office, and while in Congress he was the first Latino to serve as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, where he worked on health care as a senior member of the health subcommittee. He also led the House Democratic Caucus, which gave him a powerful leadership post. […] As attorney general in California, he has been at the forefront of legal efforts on health care, leading 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by his Republican counterparts. He has also been vocal in the Democratic Party about fighting for women’s health.”

Picking Becerra signals the Biden-Harris Administration wants a focus on negotiations with Congress: As reported by NPR: “Becerra is very familiar with how things get done or don’t get done in Washington. And he has a lot of relationships on the Hill. All of that will help him. You know, he worked with Nancy Pelosi, who he knows well, to get the Affordable Care Act passed a decade ago. And in Congress and as AG, he’s been a strong advocate for women’s health, and he understands immigrant communities very well, as well as health disparities. […] Under him at HHS would be Medicare, the CDC, the FDA and a whole lot more. And Biden is putting medical professionals in charge of those agencies, as well as his coronavirus task force. And so Becerra can use his skills to work with Congress and work with the states to shore up the Affordable Care Act to get it – you know, being implemented more effectively, that kind of thing.”

He will oversee some two dozen executive orders carried over from the Trump administration which will be reviewed by the Biden administration: These executive orders cover a broad range of issues, including veterans issues, suicide prevention, discrimination training, drug pricing and kidney health, to COVID-19 specific measures such as preventing hoarding of personal protective equipment. Given that people with intellectual / developmental disabilities are at higher risk of dying if they contract COVID-19, ANCOR will be following the fate of the December 8 executive order titled Ensuring Access to U.S. Government COVID-19 Vaccines, which “directs the Secretary of HHS to ensure that Americans have priority access to US-developed COVID-19 vaccines, and that the most vulnerable populations have first access to such vaccines. After determining that there is a sufficient supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses for all Americans who choose to be vaccinated, the EO directs the Secretary of HHS to facilitate international access to the vaccines.”

What will ANCOR be talking to HHS about in the new administration? While ensuring the needs of people with I/DD and the providers that support them are met during the COVID-19 pandemic will be our key priority, ANCOR will also be discussing long-term solutions such as ensuring that flexibilities obtained during the pandemic remain available to providers after it subsides, and that the administration works with Congress to strengthen Medicaid disability supports overall. We will share more details on our 2021 policy priorities in mid-January, when we will finalize them after receiving input from ANCOR’s member-driven Government Relations Committee.