#15 • A Healthy Dose of Healthcare News • January 22, 2021 • Special Edition
The new President was sworn in on Wednesday, which warrants a special edition of A Healthy Dose of Healthcare News focused on the new administration’s top healthcare people and policy priorities.
In this special edition, you will read about nominations to key federal health roles, President Biden’s first executives orders on healthcare, goals for health policy moving forward, and of course a healthy dose of healthcare headlines.
Nominees for health agencies
All will undergo the Senate confirmation process.
- HHS Secretary: Xavier Becerra. The lawyer, who does not have a healthcare background, is currently Attorney General of California. He has sued the Trump administration over 100 times. Alex Azar resigned via a letter dated January 12, effective on Inauguration Day.
- Assistant HHS Secretary: Rachel Levine. The transgender pediatrician would be replacing Brett Giroir.
- Surgeon General: Vivek Murthy. The 45-year old, British-born physician was surgeon general in the Obama Administration. Surgeon General Jerome Adams was asked to resign by the Biden transition team.
- Presidential Science Adviser: Eric Lander. The mathematician and geneticist worked on the Human Genome Project. The position of director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy was elevated to a Cabinet-level role. Kelvin Droegemeier had been director since 2019.
- CDC Director: Rochelle Walensky. She is chief of infectious diseases at MassGeneral and a professor at Harvard Medical School. The role was previously held by virologist Robert Redfield.
- Veterans Affairs Secretary: Denis McDonough. McDonough would be the second-ever non-veteran secretary. Richard Stone, formerly executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, is now the principal deputy under Secretary of Health. Secretary Robert Wilkie served through Inauguration Day.
- Head of Operation Warp Speed: David Kessler. He served as FDA Commissioner under Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton. Moncef Slaoui, in that role previously, was asked to step down. COO Gen. Gustave Perna is staying in his role.
- FDA Commissioner: tba. In the meantime, Janet Woodcock is stepping in as acting commissioner. Trump’s commissioner was Stephen Hahn.
- CMS Administrator: tba. Liz Richter was named acting commissioner for the time being. Commissioner Seema Verma announced her resignation on Twitter five days ahead of the inauguration.
Of interest, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is slated to become head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Executive Orders related to healthcare signed so far
- Creating the office of “COVID-19 response coordinator.”
- Mandating that people wear face masks on federal property.
- Mandating that people wear face masks on trains, plans, and boats.
- Reversing the US’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Invoking the Defense Production Act to supply personal protective equipment including N95 masks.
- Creating a COVID testing board.
- Mandating free testing for the uninsured.
COVID-19 and other goals
- One million vaccines a day for the first 100 days. The President promises to administer 100 million vaccines in the first 100 days of his presidency. Experts at Bloomberg pointed out that the corresponding daily target — 1 million injections a day — is hardly an improvement from what the country achieved before he took office.
- More funding against COVID-19. The President urged Congress to approve more funding to address the crisis.
- Vowing to codify Roe and expanding access to contraception. On the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion in the US, the White House issued a statement affirming its commitment to enshrining access to abortion in the law. Furthermore, the President and his VP stated that they were “committed to ensuring that [they] work to eliminate maternal and infant health disparities, increase access to contraception,” and that “this commitment extends to [their] critical work on health outcomes around the world.” They plan to get rid of the Mexico City Policy, which blocks federal funding for NGOs that enable access to abortion, as well as the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funding for abortion in the US.
Other healthcare headlines in brief
- Trashing the vaccine: Thousands of COVID-19 vaccines wind up in the trash in states like New York and Oregon. States are changing their policies to remove disincentives that are leading to the discarding of doses.
- But there are enough vaccines! Because the vials contain enough for six doses rather than the originally-stated five, Pfizer is on track to deliver 200 million doses by July as promised. We just need to stop trashing the ones we have…
- Launching the National AI Initiative Office. This new office is charged with overseeing and implementing the US national AI strategy and will serve as the central hub for coordination and collaboration in AI research and policymaking.
- Keeping drug prices high for low-income individuals. The new administration blocked a Trump-era rule aimed at forcing community health centers to pass savings on to customers so that they could pay less for EpiPens and insulin.
Previous editions of A Healthy Dose of Healthcare News here.