On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, the Senate Finance Committee voted on the appointment of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Nominee, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The Senate panel vote was split 14-14 in a deadlock along party lines, which now will move the HHS Becerra nomination into the hands of the Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer. He will most likely move to discharge the nomination from the committee, followed by an added full Senate vote as early as next week. Mr. Becarra was challenged by conservatives on numerous fronts related to his lack of healthcare policy experience, as well as his views on abortion and support for “Medicare for All.”
At the end of February, Mr. Xavier Becarra indicated his strong support for permanent telehealth expansion before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee during the HHS Senate confirmation hearing in late February 2021. As reported in Becker’s Hospital Review, Becerra stated, “I wholeheartedly believe we’re going to be doing an expansion of telehealth. COVID has taught us so much. It’s also an issue of broadband. We must make sure communities have broadband access. If we don’t learn from COVID that telehealth can help save lives, then we’re going to be in trouble. So I think we’re going to advance.”
According to the Review, the primary statements related to telehealth expressed by Mr. Xavier Becerra include:
- His commitment to permanently expanding the payment policies that have been passed during the pandemic to increase telemedicine access.
- The view that telehealth can help to provide quality health and decrease health inequities, especially in remote areas where people struggle to get in-person access to care. HELP Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, also mentioned that it’s necessary to address discrimination within our healthcare system where all people, including families of color and people having low incomes, get access to high-quality care.
- He referred to the pandemic as one of the driving forces behind virtual care accessibility and growth and wants to expand telehealth to provide better healthcare to everyone.
- He recommends collecting better data to fill the gaps and understand the healthcare system’s adequacy or shortages. This will also help in providing better treatment.
- He also wants to make the technology more accessible for everyone.
The HHS nominee, Mr. Xavier Becerra also expressed that the expansion of telehealth is not just important during COVID-19. He believes that is also necessary to provide virtual care in the future in post-pandemic times. Readers interested in other political and legislative issues related to telehealth may find other important updates in these recent TBHI articles:
- Public Health Emergency Extended to end of 2021
- Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access
- Psychotherapy Notes Excluded from Federal “Open Notes Rule?”
- UPDATE: Report of Telehealth Regulations by State
Becerra Confirmation Update
UPDATE: On March 18, after a tumultuous battle to win the nomination, Mr. Xavier Becerra was confirmed by a 50-49 vote Thursday to be the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services. He is taking over the agency that will implement a significant portion of the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill. A telehealth advocate, he plans to further expand access to healthcare by shepherding a number of telehealth bills currently being considered by congress.