Stephanie Kennan Comments on Xavier Becerra Appointment, Other Healthcare Selections by Biden Administration

December 9, 2020

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McGuireWoods Consulting senior vice president, Stephanie Kennan, spoke to a variety of media outlets on President-elect Biden’s appointment of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, as well as Biden’s selection of Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale doctor and expert on healthcare disparities, to lead his administration’s task force on COVID-19 equity.

As the head of HHS, Becerra will be able to affect broad changes through regulation and many are hopeful Becerra could find a solution to surprise billing by capping bills.

“When it comes to price controls, Congress would likely need to be involved,” Kennan noted to Modern Healthcare. “The HHS secretary is a pretty big bully pulpit, so Becerra would still be able to steer the conversation there if he wanted to. Even if that’s not part of the formal process, I think that HHS can make its opinion known. There are ways to do it around the edges.”

Becerra helped pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a congressman and defended it in the Supreme Court. He currently serves as California’s attorney general.

“Attorney General Becerra has shown himself to be a thoughtful, strategic leader,” Kennan said in a Dec. 7 Benefits Pro article. “Those skills will be invaluable to be an effective leader of the Health and Human Services department and in carrying out the Biden administration’s initiatives.”

Healthcare will be a priority for the incoming administration.

“The Biden administration will focus on controlling the pandemic as their first step at the same time they are working to improve the ACA to help cover individuals and families,” Kennan said.

Kennan also spoke with Med City News and noted Becerra’s knowledge and existing relationships within Washington from his time as a congressman will help him if confirmed.

“In expanding access, I think he will be able to have significant conversations with many of the players because he already knows them,” she said. “There is a comfort level there.”

Kennan also added, “[The HHS leader] has to understand how the system as a whole operates and know that when you push someplace, there is going to be an effect someplace else. I don’t think you need to be a physician to be a good HHS administrator; I think it’s important to have the leadership skills, to have the right people around you to advise, and you know, it’s a big ship — knowing how to use the levers to advance the administration’s initiatives is important. No one single person is going to know everything about healthcare.”

Finally, Kennan provided insights to The Hour on Biden’s appointment of Yale doctor Marcella Nunez-Smith as one of three co-chairs of his coronavirus advisory group. Dr. Nunez-Smith will help address racial disparities in the U.S. coronavirus crisis.

“Past administrations have not appointed senior level officials specifically tasked with working on health care equity,” Kennan said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the equity issues to the forefront because of so many minorities dying and not having the same access as others. Clearly, that is an issue related to getting the vaccine.”