White House COVID-19 testing czar and long-time Democratic health policy expert Carole Johnson will become the next head of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in January.
HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa announced Johnson’s selection this afternoon via HRSA’s email news alert system. News organization Politico reported in November that Johnson was in line for HRSA’s top job. The HRSA administrator is chosen by the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary and does not require Senate confirmation.
HRSA’s Office of Pharmacy Affairs (OPA) runs the 340B drug pricing program. HRSA has not yet announced a successor to Krista Pedley as OPA director. Pedley, a U.S. assistant surgeon general and Public Health Service rear admiral, now runs HRSA’s new Office of Special Health Initiatives, which includes OPA. Michelle Herzog, Pedley’s long-time deputy, is running OPA on an acting basis.
HRSA last month reposted the OPA director vacancy and opened the job for the first time to non-pharmacists.
Johnson ran the New Jersey Department of Human Services for three years before joining the Biden administration’s COVID-19 Response Team. The New Jersey post included overseeing the state Medicaid program. Medicaid and 340B have many connections, often strained.
Before her service in New Jersey, Johnson worked for five years in the Obama White House, as a senior health policy advisor and member of the Domestic Policy Council. During her White House stint, she worked on the Affordable Care Act, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, public health matters such as Ebola and Zika, and health and economic security.
Johnson also previously worked for U.S. House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over health care matters, at the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) on workforce policy issues, and at the Alliance of Community Health Plans, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the American Heart Association. Neither of the Congressional committees she worked for have jurisdiction over the 340B program.
“I am thrilled to announce that we will be welcoming Carole Johnson back to HRSA in January as our new administrator,” Espinosa said. “I have personally had the privilege of working closely with Carole, and I know that she has deep knowledge of HRSA’s programs, a steadfast commitment to HRSA’s mission, and firsthand appreciation of our incredible workforce.”
HRSA announced just yesterday that Espinosa, a 30-year career civil servant, last week received the Presidential Distinguished Executive Award—a rank “received by no more than one percent of all senior federal leaders for ‘exceptional performance over an extended period of time,’ according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Espinosa was recognized “for her exceptional leadership of the agency during the nation’s worst public health crisis in a century.”
UPDATE Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, 6:00 p.m. EDT—National Association of Community Health Centers President and CEO Tom Van Coverden said NACHC “welcome[s] the leadership of Carole Johnson at HRSA during an extraordinary time for community health centers.”
“In her work as testing coordinator for the White House COVID-19 Response Team, Ms. Johnson led efforts to help supply the nation’s community health centers with the tools they need to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure equity in protecting populations from further spread,” he said. “From her previous work as the White House Domestic Policy Council’s public health lead in the Obama administration, Ms. Johnson understands the critical importance of strengthening the primary care infrastructure and growing and training the health center workforce for tomorrow. We look forward to working with her to make progress on our shared priority of improving health care delivery for the nation’s underserved.”