Biden Taps California AG Becerra To Be HHS Secretary

December 7, 2020
Peter Wehrwein

Biden is also ready to announce that MGH infectious disease chief Rochelle Walensky is his pick for top job at the CDC

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be his HHS Secretary, according to multiple media reports over the weekend.

Biden will also nominate Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, to be director of the CDC, according to press reports.

With these two picks, Biden has rounded out the list of those who he wants in healthcare

leadership roles in his administration. It has been previously reported that Biden will nominate Vivek Murthy, M.D., MBA, to reprise his role as surgeon general; one report said Murthy’s is expected to have a very high profile in the administration's COVID-19 response. Jeff Zients, a former Obama administration official who has been credited with getting the ACA’s healthcare.gov website back on track after a glitch-filled rollout, is expected to be the COVID-19 response coordinator, a behind-the-scences, managerial role.

LIttle has been reported yet about who Biden might pick for FDA commissioner or CMS administrator.

If he is confirmed by the Senate, Becerra would be the first Latino HHS secretary. Becerra has gained some national prominence as leader of the coalition of states defending the ACA in the recent California v. Texas case argued before the Supreme Court. Andy Slavitt, a CMS administrator during the Obama administration, praised Becerra on Twitter as the “singular top champion” of the ACA. Sarah Kliff, a New York Times healthcare reporter, noted on Twitter that Becerra has supported Medicare for all and would be in a position to grant waivers to states seeking to set up single payer programs.

Walensky has published extensively; an author search in Pubmed produces 291 author citations. One of her most recent articles is an ahead-of-print article in Health Affairs in which she and her co-authors use a mathematical stimulation to predict the outcome of COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Among their conclusions is that the success of COVID-19 vaccine efforts will hinge on a “managing expectations regarding how a vaccine will contribute to public health responses in tandem with the continued use of nonpharmaceutical interventions.”

Managed Healthcare Executive® interviewed Walensky earlier this year about her cost-effectiveness study of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) against HIV that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. She expressed concerns that Gilead’s marketing campaign for Descovy would undercut the effectiveness of PrEP efforts.

Becerra was not on an earlier short lists of candidates for the top job at HHS that were said to include Murthy, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Related: Biden's HHS Secretary: Possible Picks

Raimondo said during a press conference last week that she was not going to be HHS secretary. Several media reports have said that Lujan Grisham was offered the job of interior secretary, not HHS secretary, but turned that offer down.