Xavier Becerra Confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services
The Senate voted, 50-49, on March 16th to confirm Xavier Becerra as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Most Republicans opposed Mr. Becerra largely due to his position on abortion. They also stated that he was unqualified for the role claiming he lacked medical experience, although most recent Secretaries of Health and Human Services had not held formal medical positions or training. Secretary Becerra is the first Latino to hold this title. He enters the position as the U.S. and the world endure the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has reshaped public health efforts in our country, highlighting racial and ethnic disparities in the health care system. Becerra, a former representative in the U.S. House for downtown Los Angeles was the attorney general of California from January 2017 until March 2021. Supporters of the nomination noted that as a Representative he worked to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Secretary Becerra is ultimately responsible for multiple programs that affect people living with HIV/AIDS including the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and for the Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) that provide treatment and care for thousands of people with HIV/AIDS. Becerra will play a key role in addressing HIV issues and will be tasked with being the lead figure in ending the HIV epidemic, a goal that President Biden committed to during his Presidential campaign. The Academy urges the Secretary to focus on ending the epidemic, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge our public health system.
The Senate also confirmed Rachel Levine to serve as assistant secretary for health at HHS. Levine is the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate. Levine will serve under the newly confirmed Secretary Becerra and is the highest-ranking transgender political appointee in the federal government. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer stated, “As transgender Americans suffer higher rates of abuse, homelessness, and depression than almost every other group, it’s important to have national figures like Dr. Levine who, by virtue of being in the public spotlight, will help break down barriers of ignorance and fear,” Schumer said in a Wednesday floor speech.
The American Academy of HIV Medicine plans to work in support of efforts by Secretary Becerra and Assistant Secretary Levine to implement President Biden’s efforts to end the HIV epidemic at the earliest possible moment. earliest possible moment.