Amid Stalled HHS Confirmation, Frontrunner Emerges for CMS Chief: Report

The Biden administration is leaning toward the selection of former federal health official and current Manatt Health managing director Chiquita Brooks-LaSure for the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Politico reported this week.

Brooks-LaSure held posts at CMS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under President Obama, with a particular focus on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. In her role at Manatt, Brooks-LaSure “provides policy analysis and strategic advice to health care stakeholders across the private and public sectors,” according to her bio.

Manatt, a national consulting firm with practices focusing on health care and a variety of other industries, was commissioned in the spring of 2020 to perform the first comprehensive analysis of the failures — both on the government and facility levels — of nursing home infrastructure in New Jersey amid COVID-19.


The Politico report emphasized that President Biden has yet to make a final decision for the top post at CMS, with fellow Obama administration alum and current North Carolina health secretary Mandy Cohen also under consideration.

Given the delays in confirming Xavier Becerra, Biden’s choice to lead HHS, the CMS job is lower on the administration’s priority list, according to Politico. Senate Republicans have vocally objected to Becerra’s lack of direct health care experience — he currently serves as the attorney general of California — as well as his historic support for women’s access to contraception and abortion.

But with a historic pandemic still raging and the national vaccine rollout ongoing, Democrats and advocacy groups have urged the Senate to install Becerra as soon as possible; former Democratic HHS secretaries Kathleen Sebelius and Donna Shalala accused Congress of hindering Biden’s ability to fully fight COVID-19 with the obstruction.


“As soon as possible, we need someone in that role who understands these challenges and can inspire the career public servants in the department to pull together for the fight of their lives: defeating COVID-19,” Sebelius and Shalala wrote. “Becerra is that leader.”

Longtime CMS official Liz Richter is currently serving as acting administrator of the agency, with Norris Cochran holding down HHS on an interim basis, though Politico noted that acting department heads usually do not have the authority or political capital to carry out major policy initiatives.