Biden Picks California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for HHS

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, two people familiar with the matter said Sunday, a job that will focus on two key promises of the incoming administration — tackling the coronavirus pandemic and expanding the Affordable Care Act.

Becerra, a former congressman from the Los Angeles area, emerged as a candidate for the job in recent days as others who Biden had considered fell out of contention. Biden was under pressure from Latino lawmakers to select another Hispanic candidate, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Becerra would have a long list of priorities just in tackling the pandemic, including expanding testing, improving access to personal protective equipment and distributing a Covid-19 vaccine.

He would also be responsible for another top goal of the Biden administration — strengthening and building up the Affordable Care Act.

Health-care consultants expect the new administration to quickly roll back some changes the Trump administration made to the implementation of the ACA. The Biden team will likely put more money into making it easier to buy insurance on the ACA marketplace, improve advertising of open enrollment, revise rules around LGBTQ protections, loosen work-eligibility requirements and roll back the expanded use of short-term health insurance plans.

The Biden transition had no immediate comment.

As California attorney general, Becerra has led other states with Democratic attorneys general to file lawsuits defending the Affordable Care Act against the efforts of President Donald Trump’s administration to dismantle it. That includes a case currently before the Supreme Court.

He has also filed suit against the HHS for allowing health workers and hospitals to decline to provide medical treatment that conflicts with their religious and moral beliefs. He has also filed suits against broadening exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraception without a copay, and removing LGBTQ people from the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination protections.

Becerra took on the largest hospital system in Northern California, Sutter Health, and reached a $575 million settlement with it over price-gouging charges. Former Obama administration officials say they expect the incoming administration to put an increased focus on health care antitrust enforcement, which they say is contributing to rising health-care costs.

While in Congress, Becerra was a supporter of a Medicare for All bill and as recently as 2017 spoke in favor of a single-payer health system.

Biden plans to announce a group of nominees and appointees for his health care team this week, his transition team said Friday. Biden has also picked Vivek Murthy for surgeon general, a role that would be expanded to include managing the U.S. government response to the coronavirus, according to people familiar with the process.

The New York Times first reported Biden’s selection of Becerra.

Biden has committed to building the most diverse administration ever and, if confirmed by the Senate, Becerra would be the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. People of color have disproportionally contracted the Covid-19 virus and faced racial disparities in their health care that have further compounded the effects of the pandemic.

“It’s very exciting for us to see a Hispanic chosen for such an important position at such a critically important time,” Janet Murguia, president of UnidosUS, said in an interview Sunday. Her group is among those that have pushed Biden to include more people of color in key jobs and, amid the ongoing pandemic, HHS is one of them.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus had made a push last week for Lujan Grisham but she had fallen out of favor with Biden’s team for the job.

Becerra is the first Latino to serve as attorney general in California and has earned a high public profile waging a legal war with the Trump administration over issues ranging from the environment to immigrant rights.

Becerra, 62, was born in Sacramento. He was the first in his family to graduate from college. He completed his undergraduate and law degrees at Stanford University.

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