Biden picks health team, including first Latino HHS secretary nominee
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced key members of his health team today — individuals he called “trusted, accomplished” and “ready from day one” to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.
For HHS secretary, Biden nominated Xavier Becerra, who is currently California’s attorney general and if confirmed, would be the first Latino to hold the position.
According to Nancy Nielsen, MD, PhD, a former senior adviser at CMS and now senior associate dean of health policy at the University at Buffalo, Becerra is “at the forefront of the 20-state coalition supporting the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.” Becerra has also fought for access to remdesivir during the pandemic, women’s reproductive rights and removing undue barriers to treatment for addiction.
Despite Becerra’s involvement in health care, Nielsen said his nomination as HHS secretary was unexpected.
“Becerra was widely thought to be a possible attorney general nominee,” she said. “He spent many years in Congress before returning to [California] as [attorney general], so he knows that landscape, but the HHS nomination wasn’t what was expected by political prognosticators.”
Stan L. Gerson, MD, interim dean of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, called Becerra an “established, efficient and underserved-minded administrator.”
“While his specific health care background is not apparent, his spouse is a maternal-fetal medicine attending at [the University of Southern California], providing some household perspective on health care and NIH research,” he told Healio Primary Care.
Biden announced other key nominations and appointments to fill out his health care team:
- Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, will serve as CDC director. Walensky is chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
- Anthony Fauci, MD, will serve as chief medical adviser to the president on COVID-19. Fauci will also remain as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Biden transition team said.
- Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, was nominated to serve as surgeon general. Murthy is a physician, researcher and former Vice Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
- Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS, will serve as the COVID-19 Equity Task Force chair. Nunez-Smith is an associate professor of medicine, public health and management at Yale School of Medicine.
- Jeff Zients will serve as the COVID-19 response coordinator and counselor to the president. Zients was previously the director of the National Economic Council and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Obama administration.
Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, told Healio Primary Care that if confirmed, Becerra “will benefit from an administration that has a science-based plan to get this deadly virus [COVID-19] under control.”