The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed California attorney general Xavier Becerra as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a 50-49 margin, almost entirely along party lines.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican who voted to confirm Becerra.
Becerra was nominated by President Joe Biden in early December 2020, but the hearing for his confirmation was delayed amid criticisms by Republicans that Becerra lacks direct health care experience, as well as objections to his support for access to contraception and abortion. During one of his hearings, Becerra was questioned on these issues, among many others — including his support for pharmaceutical companies — but was only once directly questioned about nursing homes and the need for support to the sector.
That question was asked by Collins.
“If I were fortunate enough to be confirmed, it would be a top priority to make sure that we are providing the resources necessary,” Becerra said in response. “We have seen how so many of these assisted living facilities and nursing homes and other facilities that care for aged and disabled Americans haven’t had the resources. They’re short on workers, and we’ve seen the crisis of COVID hit them hardest.”
The 50-49 vote was the closest for any of Biden’s cabinet picks, and “an unusually narrow margin for an HHS secretary,” Politico noted Thursday.
Becerra also was part of a coalition of district and city attorneys in California that filed a lawsuit against Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) on Monday, alleging the submission of false nursing home staffing data to the federal government and improper resident discharges. The lawsuit covers 10 Brookdale-operated skilled nursing facilities in California.
“We are holding Brookdale accountable for artificially increasing its profits by cutting corners when transferring or discharging its patients. It lured individuals to its facilities through false promises about providing the highest quality care,” Becerra said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Choosing a skilled nursing facility is no simple task. Seniors, people with disabilities and their families rely heavily on accurate data to make that decision. Californians have been directly impacted by Brookdale’s behavior. We will ensure that they face consequences for violating the public’s trust.”
Brookdale denied the allegations.
Becerra also created a new state-level Justice Department division aimed at cutting Medicaid fraud and elder abuse, and joined other Democratic state attorneys general in criticizing former President Trump’s regulatory moves around nursing homes.
With the HHS slot filled, attention will now turn to the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure for the top post at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).