Xavier Becerra, President Biden’s pick to be the next U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary survived his U.S. Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing yesterday, with a GOP foe of his nomination grudgingly predicting the panel would vote to confirm him.
“If I had to guess, if I was a betting man, I’d bet you have the votes to be approved,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told Becerra.
The day before, during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee’s courtesy hearing on the nomination, Cassidy asked Becerra tough questions about the 340B program, to assess whether Becerra, California’s attorney general, understood the nuts and bolts of health care policy sufficiently to warrant being confirmed. Cassidy issued a news release Tuesday stating that Becerra’s responses on 340B and on drug manufacturer rebates to pharmacy benefit managers demonstrated he lacks “a firm grasp on important health care policy questions.”
Becerra appeared to get a vote of confidence on 340B matters during the Finance Committee hearing from Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), the Senate’s second highest ranking GOP member and a long-time ally of 340B health care providers.
“I know you heard about 340B a few times yesterday, so I’ll try to keep this quick,” Thune said, referring to Cassidy’s questioning of Becerra the day before. “To me, the key to 340B is that it enables hospitals and covered entities to provide community benefits that otherwise might not be available. If confirmed, would you commit to ensuring the strength of the 340B program and the community that it supports?”
“Absolutely,” Becerra answered. “Not just in your rural communities, but in the inner cities I’ve had to represent who depend on 340B.”
“Good,” Thune said.
Also during yesterday’s hearing, the committee’s former GOP chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), asked Becerra if the Biden administration would support bipartisan legislation to lower drug prices along the lines of the bill that Grassley and current Finance chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) fashioned during the last session of Congress. The bill’s features included requiring drug manufacturers to pay the federal government rebates on Medicare Part B and Part D drugs for which prices rise faster than the rate of inflation, and limiting Medicare Part D beneficiaries’ out of pocket spending to $3,100.
“Do you know if the Biden administration would be interested in enacting a bipartisan prescription drug pricing reform bill along the lines of what Wyden and I worked out that actually saves the taxpayers money and can get 60 votes in the United States Senate?” Grassley asked Becerra. “Or do you think they want the alternative of trying to get something a lot stronger from the Democrat point of view?”
Becerra answered, “I would tell you this: There’s no doubt that President Biden wants to see us lower the price of prescription medicine, and he and his team—if I am fortunate enough to be part of that team—will be working with you on a bipartisan fashion to reach a solution.”
The Finance Committee had not yet scheduled a vote on Becerra’s nomination as of this morning.