Biden Assembling Health Care Team 12/03 06:23
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Up soon for President-elect Joe Biden: naming his top
health care officials as the coronavirus pandemic rages. It's hard to imagine
more consequential picks.
Already one prominent candidate to lead the Department of Health and Human
Services has faded from the scene. New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan
Grisham was offered another Cabinet post --- interior secretary --- and turned
it down, a person close to the Biden transition said Wednesday. That person
spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Lujan
Grisham's office had no comment.
Biden is expected to announce his choice for HHS secretary next week. That
person has to have "the confidence of the president, the ability to operate
collaboratively across the government, credibility within the health care
world, and the capacity to work with the states," said former HHS Secretary
Mike Leavitt, who served under Republican President George W. Bush.
Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has emerged as a focus of
attention for the top health job. Although Raimondo has been aggressive in
confronting the virus, her state is facing a dangerous surge and struggling to
flatten the curve. Separately, Raimondo's business-friendly orientation may
raise objections from the left flank of the Democratic Party.
Also in the running is former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, co-chair of
Biden's coronavirus task force. Murthy has a soft-spoken demeanor and a
reputation for consensus building. He's the author of a recent book addressing
the human toll of loneliness, a problem that has become more widely recognized
in the time of COVID-19.
Alongside his health secretary, Biden is expected to name a top-level White
House adviser to coordinate the government's extensive coronavirus response.
Vaccines developed under the Trump administration will be delivered on Biden's
watch, a massive undertaking that's bound to have its share of logistical
problems. Democratic health policy experts say the leading candidate is
businessman Jeff Zients, an economic adviser in the Obama White House who was
widely credited with rescuing HealthCare.gov after its disastrous launch in
Keeping the focus on the virus, Biden is also said to be close to nominating
a commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration and a director of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under consideration for FDA are former deputy commissioner Dr. Joshua
Sharfstein, who has also served as Maryland's health secretary, and Dr. Luciana
Borio, a member of Biden's coronavirus advisory board who formerly held senior
posts with the FDA and the National Security Council and has expertise in
responding to disease outbreaks and bioterrorism.
Being considered for CDC director is Dr. Julie Morita, a top executive of
the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which works across a broad range
of health care issues. Morita spent nearly 20 years in leadership jobs with the
Chicago public health department, rising from medical director to commissioner.
It's unclear if Biden will move right away to name an administrator for the
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the HHS agency responsible for the
government's health insurance programs. CMS will play a central role in the new
president's efforts to expand health insurance coverage. A number of former
Obama administration officials are under consideration.
Health care will be a defining issue of Biden's presidency even after
expected vaccines defuse the threat of COVID-19, former HHS Secretary Leavitt
predicted. Addressing Medicare's shaky finances will become an urgent priority
before the end of the first term. The Congressional Budget Office projects that
Medicare's giant trust fund for inpatient care will unable to cover expected
costs in 2024.
"If that is the case, they are going to have to deal with it legislatively
in 2021 or 2022," Leavitt said.
Meanwhile, millions still don't have access to affordable insurance
coverage. And racial and ethnic health disparities remain a festering source of
preventable suffering. "The human services programs go through HHS," said