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Biden Assembling Health Care Team      12/03 06:23

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Up soon for President-elect Joe Biden: naming his top 
health care officials as the coronavirus pandemic rages. It's hard to imagine 
more consequential picks.

   Already one prominent candidate to lead the Department of Health and Human 
Services has faded from the scene. New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan 
Grisham was offered another Cabinet post --- interior secretary --- and turned 
it down, a person close to the Biden transition said Wednesday. That person 
spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Lujan 
Grisham's office had no comment.

   Biden is expected to announce his choice for HHS secretary next week. That 
person has to have "the confidence of the president, the ability to operate 
collaboratively across the government, credibility within the health care 
world, and the capacity to work with the states," said former HHS Secretary 
Mike Leavitt, who served under Republican President George W. Bush.

   Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has emerged as a focus of 
attention for the top health job. Although Raimondo has been aggressive in 
confronting the virus, her state is facing a dangerous surge and struggling to 
flatten the curve. Separately, Raimondo's business-friendly orientation may 
raise objections from the left flank of the Democratic Party.

   Also in the running is former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, co-chair of 
Biden's coronavirus task force. Murthy has a soft-spoken demeanor and a 
reputation for consensus building. He's the author of a recent book addressing 
the human toll of loneliness, a problem that has become more widely recognized 
in the time of COVID-19.

   Alongside his health secretary, Biden is expected to name a top-level White 
House adviser to coordinate the government's extensive coronavirus response. 
Vaccines developed under the Trump administration will be delivered on Biden's 
watch, a massive undertaking that's bound to have its share of logistical 
problems. Democratic health policy experts say the leading candidate is 
businessman Jeff Zients, an economic adviser in the Obama White House who was 
widely credited with rescuing HealthCare.gov after its disastrous launch in 
2013.

   Keeping the focus on the virus, Biden is also said to be close to nominating 
a commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration and a director of the 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

   Under consideration for FDA are former deputy commissioner Dr. Joshua 
Sharfstein, who has also served as Maryland's health secretary, and Dr. Luciana 
Borio, a member of Biden's coronavirus advisory board who formerly held senior 
posts with the FDA and the National Security Council and has expertise in 
responding to disease outbreaks and bioterrorism.

   Being considered for CDC director is Dr. Julie Morita, a top executive of 
the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which works across a broad range 
of health care issues. Morita spent nearly 20 years in leadership jobs with the 
Chicago public health department, rising from medical director to commissioner.

   It's unclear if Biden will move right away to name an administrator for the 
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the HHS agency responsible for the 
government's health insurance programs. CMS will play a central role in the new 
president's efforts to expand health insurance coverage. A number of former 
Obama administration officials are under consideration.

   Health care will be a defining issue of Biden's presidency even after 
expected vaccines defuse the threat of COVID-19, former HHS Secretary Leavitt 
predicted. Addressing Medicare's shaky finances will become an urgent priority 
before the end of the first term. The Congressional Budget Office projects that 
Medicare's giant trust fund for inpatient care will unable to cover expected 
costs in 2024.

   "If that is the case, they are going to have to deal with it legislatively 
in 2021 or 2022," Leavitt said.

   Meanwhile, millions still don't have access to affordable insurance 
coverage. And racial and ethnic health disparities remain a festering source of 
preventable suffering. "The human services programs go through HHS," said 
Leavitt.

 
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