WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) today, in the Senate Finance Committee, voted against advancing the nomination of Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“If a doctor were nominated for Attorney General, everyone would say ‘he’s not qualified.’ Apparently, however, it is okay to nominate an Attorney General for HHS Secretary. A HHS Secretary should have some expertise in the subject matter. Previous appointees have been governors, a state insurance commissioner, health administrators or doctor, and a pharmaceutical executive. They brought a working knowledge to being HHS Secretary,” said Dr. Cassidy. “I asked Mr. Becerra about three major issues HHS is responsible for, pharmaceutical costs in the Medicare Part D program,Temporary Aid for Needy Families, and the 340B program, which affects the price privately insured patients pay for prescriptions; his answers did not display knowledge. These issues are too important for a Secretary to learn on the job.”
Click here to watch Cassidy’s full remarks at today’s Executive Session.
“Mr. Chairman, I will briefly say that my concerns regarding Mr. Becerra’s qualifications have been mischaracterized. Let me phrase it differently.
“He is a very good Attorney General. He’s administered a legal department – as you point out – with a budget of about a billion dollars. But his qualification to be HHS Secretary, seem to be minimal beyond suing HHS.
“And I say that because we would expect someone who’s the [U.S] Attorney General to have a legal background pertinent to being Attorney General. It seems as if we should expect that of a HHS secretary.
“Previous HHS Secretaries have had a pharmaceutical industry background, been a state health commissioner, run health systems, have been governors – somebody who has had a background in actually administering the programs that HHS administers.
“Now, when Mr. Becerra was here I asked him, very respectfully, about three different aspects of HHS territory. In [the] HELP Committee I asked about the 340B program, which is something that we have had hearings on over the last year. A governor would know about 340B, a pharmaceutical rep would, a healthcare provider, et cetera. And Mr. Becerra displayed no familiarity. In this Committee, I asked about the program – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – a governor would know that. Mr. Becerra showed no familiarity. And in this Committee I asked about Part D pharmaceutical costs, which we have had hearings on as my Grassley-Wyden bill supports, as Senator Crapo has had an alternative bill, as Mr. Cornyn has voted for stuff. [Mr. Becerra] should have been aware of and had no familiarity with.
“Being HHS Secretary should not be a learn on the job position. And I’m afraid Mr. Becerra will be very dependent on advisors.
“I could be Attorney General with no legal background if I said all I was going to do was rely upon providers, but I would not serve our country well. Mr. Becerra is very bright. He’s very well-meaning, very smart. I will cooperate with him and work with him. But we shouldn’t have the pretense that this person has the qualifications of someone with a different background.
“With that I yield back.”
Cassidy questioned Attorney General Becerra in both the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and Finance Committees last week.