Biden’s Choice for CMS Admin Confirmed

The United States Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s choice to be the next administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on a mostly party-line vote of 55-44. Republicans Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC),  Susan Collins (ME), Jerry Moran (KS), and Lisa Murkowski (AK) voted with the Democrats to confirm.

Ms. Brooks-LaSure becomes the first African-American woman to run CMS, the largest component of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), with ten offices around the country, more than 6000 employees, and over $1 trillion in annual expenditures.

CMS has regulatory oversight of most health care providers in the country and it administers Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), covering at least 145 million people around the country.

“Chiquita Brooks-LaSure brings solid experience to a very difficult job,” said NAHC President Bill Dombi in reaction to her confirmation as CMS Administrator. “Over the years, she has demonstrated a high degree of capability and the versatility to handle the wide range on matters that occur in Medicare and Medicaid. We look forward to working with her to expand access to home and community-based services and make the home the center of health care.”

Ms. Brooks-LaSure graduated from Princeton University in 1996 and earned a Masters of Public Policy from Georgetown University in 1999, before beginning her career as aprogram examiner and Medicaid analyst at the Office of Mangagement & Budget (OMB). She has worked for the Democratic staff on the Ways & Means Committee in the House of Representatives, working on issues like the ACA and the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA). Ms. Brooks-LaSure moved on to CMS, where she worked in the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCCIIO), leading ACA implementation on insurance reform. Like many other Biden appointees, Ms. Brooks-LaSure is a veteran of the Obama administration.

Ms. Brooks-LaSure has stayed very busy since leaving government and she is currently the Manging Director of Manatt Health, consulting on health care financing. She serves on the board of directors of FAIRHealth, a non-profit working for health care cost transparency, and she has been a consultant to The Commonwealth Fund, that works for improved access, efficiency, and quality in health care, particularly for the poor and uninsured. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam named Ms. Brooks-LaSure to the Virginia Health Benefits Exchange Advisory Council last September.

Crucially, Ms. Brooks-LaSure ran the HHS agency review team during the Biden transition period, so her familiarity with the administration’s health care plans is complete.

Ms. Brooks-LaSure testified before the House Ways & Means Committee on “Pathways to Universal Health Coverage,” defending the ACA record, calling for more Medicaid expansion, and creating a Medicare buy-in option, particularly for people just shy of the age qualifications and above the ACA subsidy level. Ms. Brooks-LaSure spoke favorably of such a buy-in, stressing that it could expand coverage and still keep the current very popular Medicare program intact.

Ms. Brooks-LaSure worked on a Medicare buy-in presentation to the state of New Mexico in 2018 and, authored an issue brief with her colleagues at Manatt Health on the subject of Medicare buy-in. The brief also covered Medicaid buy-ins, calling it “chief among the emerging state-based solutions.”

During the presidential campaign, the Biden campaign promoted creating an option “like Medicare,” but not exactly the sort of Medicare buy-in Ms. Brooks-LaSure favored in her 2019 testimony. However, her proposal is not unlike H.R. 1346, the Medicare Buy-In and Health Care Stabilization Act of 2019 in the previous Congress. Fifty-one Democrats co-sponsored that bill, including several members of the responsible committee.

In her 2019 testiony to Congress, Ms. Brooks-LaSure seemed open to a public option in health care, suggesting it could lower premiums and increase affordability and access to quality health insurance.

Ms. Brooks-LaSure’s career has been marked by a determination to make health care more accessible and affordable, with a particular focus on the poor and women’s health. She has been one of the leading Democratic thought leaders on these subjects and, thus, her likely appointment to CMS is not a surprise.