President Biden has made his choice for a key administration official. Today, he named Chiquita Brooks-LaSure as Director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency with sweeping jurisdiction over health policy affecting seniors, workers with disabilities, and their families. If confirmed by the Senate, Brooks-LaSure will be the first African-American woman to hold that post.
CMS director-designate Chiquita Brooks-LaSure
Brooks-LaSure, a former Obama administration healthcare policy official, will replace President Trump’s CMS chief, Seema Verma, who left the job when Joe Biden was inaugurated on January 20th. Verma – a corporatist conservative idealogue – spent four years undermining traditional Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Her actions in office also came under scrutiny by the HHS Inspector General for her “use of outside consultants to perform inherently governmental functions,” including burnishing her own image.
As President Biden’s designated CMS director, Brooks-LaSure represents a welcome change, with a solid background in Democratic health policy circles:
“[She] has a long track record in government, having held health policy jobs at the White House, in Congress, and at CMS during the Obama administration. Most recently she led the Biden transition’s ‘landing team’ for the Department of Health and Human Services, laying the groundwork for the new administration.” – Associated Press, 2/18/21
She appears very much in sync with President Biden’s healthcare priorities. The Associated Press reports that Brooks-LaSure is expected to increase Obamacare enrollment and “persuade holdout states to adopt Medicaid expansion.”
According to the Washington Post, Brooks-LaSure was “championed by allies on Capitol Hill, including the Congressional Black Caucus.” She no doubt will be a powerful advocate for President Biden’s legislative efforts to boost health care access – especially for older Americans. President Biden campaigned on a platform of expanding not only Medicaid, but Medicare – a key goal for the National Committee and our members and supporters across the country.
One of Brooks-LaSure’s early challenges will be reversing some of the most insidious Trump administration healthcare policies. The Biden administration already is off to a good start. On February 12th, CMS sent letters to several states, rescinding Trump administration waivers allowing Medicaid work requirements. Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik celebrated the end of this mean-spirited Trump policy, pointing out that forcing Medicaid patients to work is unfair and contrary to the program’s mission. In a column aptly titled, Goodbye to those stupid, useless and biased Medicaid work requirements, Hiltzik writes:
“Healthcare experts warned from the inception that work requirements would throw thousands of people off Medicaid, wouldn’t increase employment, would be expensive to administer, would probably be ruled illegal and were unnecessary. They were right on all counts.” – Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 2/17/21
We also hope that Brooks-LaSure will steer CMS in the opposite direction in its public outreach for Medicare Open Enrollment. Trump’s CMS showed blatant bias toward private Medicare Advantage plans, especially in its annual enrollment materials. We look to Biden’s CMS chief to ensure that enrollees receive balanced information about their Medicare options.
Between undoing Trump administration policies and implementing President Biden’s proposals, there are myriad challenges facing the new CMS director. Fortunately, Brooks-LaSure brings to the job her leadership skills, policy chops, and a fresh perspective as the first black woman to helm CMS.