President Joe Biden recently announced his picks to lead his administration’s approach to health care policy — and moderate they are not.
Take his nominee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra. He served in the House for 12 terms but has no on-the-ground experience in public health. That makes him an unusual choice to run the nation’s top health agency during a pandemic.
Perhaps Mr. Becerra’s chief qualification in Mr. Biden’s eyes is his record as a partisan defender of Obamacare. As California’s attorney general, Mr. Becerra led an effort by 20 states and the District of Columbia to stymie a legal challenge to the law advanced by Republicans. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Nov. 10. A decision is expected in the spring of 2021.
More telling, however, is Mr. Becerra’s unqualified support for Medicare for All. He co-sponsored Medicare for All legislation four times while serving in the House. And in a 2017 interview, he stated that he supports single-payer “absolutely.”
Mr. Biden spent much of his campaign opposing calls from Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressives for Medicare for All. Those cries now look dubious. In fact, by nominating an avowed fan of single-payer to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Mr. Biden has set the stage for Medicare for All at the state level.
If confirmed, Mr. Becerra would have the ability to grant waivers under the terms of the Affordable Care Act that would enable individual states to use federal funds to create their own single-payer systems, as long as their plans don’t increase the federal deficit. These waivers don’t require congressional approval. So Medicare for All could become a reality in states dominated by Democrats, like New York and California.
Mr. Becerra has also tried to use government power to bring to heel the pharmaceutical companies that are going to get us out of this pandemic. In 2020, he led a campaign by nearly three dozen state attorneys general to get the Trump administration to seize the patents for remdesivir, an antiviral developed by Gilead Sciences Inc. that has proved to shorten hospital stays for those with COVID-19.
Mr. Biden’s pick for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, is no moderate, either. He held the position during the Obama administration. Far from a disinterested medical practitioner, Dr. Murthy is an experienced activist, having founded the advocacy groups Doctors for Obama in 2008, and later Doctors for America.
The latter organization promotes a system of universal coverage, and advocates for “no co-pays, no deductibles, no unnecessary barriers to coverage like Medicaid.” As the group’s website puts it, “If there has ever been a time for big government, now is the time.”
Dr. Murthy served as an adviser to the Biden campaign, and personally backs “a well-crafted public option.”
The surgeon general’s chief job is to communicate the best available public-health science in a clear and unbiased fashion. That task has taken on new importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. But instead of selecting a non-partisan figure who can appeal to Americans of all political stripes, Mr. Biden has chosen a left-leaning activist.
The president may have campaigned as a centrist. But his health care team suggests he’ll govern as a lefty. So much for the “healing and unity” he promised the electorate.
Sally C. Pipes is the president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is “False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All” (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.