Prepared by Christopher Gallagher, OCC Washington Representative
OCAN Holds Congressional Briefing and Virtual Advocacy Days on TROA
On Monday, March 1st and Friday, March 5th, the Obesity Care Advocacy Network (OCAN) is holding its annual Spring Virtual Capitol Hill Advocacy Days. As in the past, OCAN members will be supporting passage of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, which is scheduled to be reintroduced during early March by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) on the Senate side and Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) on the House side.
In addition to the virtual advocacy days, OCAN will host a virtual Congressional Brieifng at noon on Friday, March 5th, entitled, “Obesity Care, COVID-19 and Communities of Color.” The forum will focus on the importance of the obesity continuum of care, how these approaches can address the ties between obesity and COVID-19, and the disproportionate impact on communities of color.
Senate Holds Confirmation Hearings for Becerra & Murthy
On February 24, The Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing to examine the Nomination of former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Committee members pressed Becerra on his plans to forward the COVID-19 response, improve access to affordable health care, and address health equity. Republican members pressed Becerra on his history supporting abortion and legal cases he oversaw as California Attorney General.
In his opening statement, Becerra said the mission of HHS – to enhance the health and wellbeing of all Americans – is core to who he is. He outlined his accomplishments as a former-Congressman where he helped expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, worked to pass the ACA, and fought to strengthen and modernize Medicare in the Ways and Means Committee. As California’s Attorney General he created a health care rights and access unit, cracked down on Medicare and Medicaid fraud, held opioid manufacturers accountable for the addiction crisis, fought to lower drug and hospital prices, and protected patients’ privacy. Moving forward, Becerra emphasized that he is ready to work on bipartisan solutions to make COVID-19 treatments more readily available, increase accessibility to quality, affordable health care, and reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
On February 25, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing entitled “Nominations of Vivek Murthy to serve as Medical Director in the Regular Corps of the Public Health Service and Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, and Rachel Levine to serve as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services.” The witnesses were The Honorable Vivek Hallegere Murthy and Dr. Rachel Leland Levine. Democratic and Republican members pressed the witnesses on their plans to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its secondary impacts. Witnesses largely emphasized the importance of education and funding to confront COVID-19-related challenges along with the opioid crisis, disparate access to health care, and mental health deterioration.
Of particular note, HELP Committee member Senator Bill Cassidy challenged Murthy and Levine as to whether the federal government is doing enough to address our country’s obesity epidemic — especially given obesity being a significant risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and gall stone disease. During his questioning, Cassidy also got Vivek Murthy to acknowledge that obesity is a major risk for poor outcomes for those who contract COVID-19.
Biden Nominates Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to Head up CMS
During February, President Biden also tapped Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to be the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Previously, she served as deputy director for policy at CMS’ Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight and director of coverage policy at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama Administration. If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman to lead CMS.