Despite all the assurances that President-elect Joe Biden would govern to help all Americans, he is passing up his first opportunity to find common ground on health care with his planned appointment of Xavier Becerra to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Becerra has a long history of advancing government-first health care policies and acting as an Obamacare frontman during both his tenure in Congress and as California Attorney General (AG). And with health care top of mind for nearly every American these days, the appointment could cost Biden some goodwill at the least and the U.S. Senate at most.
Health care premiums have more than doubled since 2013, and nearly 30 million Americans remain uninsured. Obamacare failed on its many promises to lower health insurance costs and protect patient choice, and, unsurprisingly, Americans are looking to lawmakers to find better solutions to lower costs and expand their access to care.
But instead of filling the top health care post with someone ready to do that hard work, Biden has put forth Becerra to fill the top health care post.
While the current administration has been making gains to lower health care costs, expand consumer choice, and restore Medicaid, Becerra has been making a name for himself as Trump’s health care nemesis and defending the law that he helped pass in 2010.
Under the Trump administration, HHS expanded consumer access to short-term health plans, giving millions of Americans the option to buy more flexible insurance at a price 50 to 80 percent lower than individual market plans. But Becerra opposed the effort.
Thanks to the current administration, more small businesses were able to join association health plans, enabling them to offer more affordable coverage to their employees. But Becerra was quick to challenge that rule, as well.
Perhaps most notably, Becerra has led the charge to defend Obamacare in the U.S. Supreme Court where justices are reviewing the constitutionality of Obamacare’s individual mandate. A ruling on that case, California v. Texas, is expected very soon.
It is clear that Becerra is not moderate in his positions on health care reform. And seeing as
the politician/lawyer has no direct health care experience, Becerra’s appointment seems to be more about his political prowess and determination to turn back the pages of President Trump’s health care reforms. But is that all?
For months on the campaign trail, Biden distanced himself from more extreme, single-payer health care proposals like that offered by Senator Bernie Sanders—and for good measure. Democrat primary voters chose Biden, not Sanders, to lead the Democrats in November. But Biden has chosen a former cosponsor of Medicare for All legislation to head HHS.
In a Fox News Sunday interview in 2017, just nine months into his new job as AG, Becerra said, “I’ve been a supporter of Medicare for all for the 24 years that I was in Congress. This year, as attorney general, I would fight for that if we had an opportunity to put that forward in the state of California, because I think what we do is we give people that certainty that they’re going to able to access a doctor or a hospital.”
Coincidentally, Becerra assumed his position as California’s top cop when Kamala Harris ran for Senate—another strong supporter of moving toward a Medicare for All-type system.
Lawmakers should prepare to protect health care reforms that help patients, including pro-work welfare reforms like Medicaid work requirements. Waivers granted to states like Arkansas and Indiana have allowed states to employ proven work requirements to move more able-bodied adults from welfare back to work. Before work requirements were paused in Arkansas, over 9,200 adult Medicaid expansion beneficiaries found employment.
Truth be told, Becerra’s nomination should not be surprising for anyone who’s been listening to Biden for the past 19 months, but it’s concerning all the same. Instead of nominating someone willing to work to fix health care, Biden has selected a party-line, Obamacare watchdog and Medicare for All champion to lead HHS. Patients should brace themselves, because it looks like the fight over more government control of your health care is moving from California to Washington, D.C.