Senate Approves Manatt Phelps Vet For Top HHS Post

By Jeff Overley
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Law360 (May 25, 2021, 12:35 PM EDT) -- U.S. senators on Tuesday confirmed a veteran Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP adviser to a top post at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bringing President Joe Biden one step closer to rounding out his health policy leadership.

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure testifies before the Senate Finance Committee during her nomination hearing to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in Washington on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Lawmakers approved the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure as administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on a 55-44 vote. Brooks-LaSure, who joined Manatt Phelps in 2016 and served at CMS during the Obama administration, is the first Black woman and the third consecutive female to helm the agency in a non-acting capacity.

Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Roy Blunt of Missouri joined Democrats on Tuesday in supporting Brooks-LaSure's nomination.

In a Tuesday statement, Matt Eyles, president and CEO of trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, cheered the "historic confirmation" of Brooks-LaSure and described her as "passionately committed to improving health equity."

During her previous tenure at CMS, Brooks-LaSure became known for trying to persuade Republican-led states to accept the ACA's Medicaid expansion. This year, Republicans delayed her nomination after CMS rescinded an extension — granted during the final days of the Trump administration — of a special waiver for Texas' Medicaid program.

CMS sets the rules of the road for more than $1 trillion in annual spending and oversees the biggest programs within HHS, including the Affordable Care Act and government health coverage for seniors and lower-income Americans. 

At a confirmation hearing last month, Brooks-LaSure spotlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on "communities of color" and vowed to work with lawmakers to permanently expand telehealth services that have surged in popularity during the pandemic.

Beth Feldpush, a senior vice president at trade group America's Essential Hospitals, which lobbies for hospitals in underprivileged areas, praised Brooks-LaSure in a Tuesday statement for her "long-standing focus on disparities in health and health care," and said that the new administrator "takes the reins at CMS at a critical juncture for our nation" because of COVID-19's economic and health fallout.

Tuesday's vote means that Biden, more than four months after taking office, has officially put together most of the key members of his health care team. Those members include former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who became HHS secretary on a 50-49 vote in March, and Dr. Rachel L. Levine, who in March became an assistant HHS secretary and the first openly transgender individual to win U.S. Senate confirmation to a federal post.

One of the most important HHS slots still awaiting a Senate-confirmed boss is at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, where Biden has yet to nominate a permanent commissioner. The FDA is being led in an acting capacity by Janet Woodcock, who has spent decades at the agency in high-ranking roles.

--Editing by Alyssa Miller.

Update: This story has been updated to note which Republican senators supported Brooks-LaSure's nomination and with comments from Matt Eyles and Beth Feldpush.

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