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Brooks-LaSure will become the first Black person to lead the federal agency responsible for the administration of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The federal agency that manages a roughly trillion-dollar annual budget in overseeing the Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs for older and low-income Americans has a new leader.

The U.S. Senate voted 55-44 Tuesday to confirm Chiquita Brooks-LaSure as the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), making her the first Black person to serve as head of the entity that employs roughly 6,300 workers and provides healthcare coverage to about 1 in 3 Americans – well over 100 million people.

Five Republicans – Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Jerry Moran of Kansas, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – joined all 50 Democrats in voting to confirm Brooks-LaSure.

“The reason to support this nomination is simple – the country is in the middle of the biggest public health crisis in a century. And on top of that pandemic, lawmakers are working to expand health coverage, bring down the cost of prescription drugs, bring the Medicare program into the 21st century, and more,” U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said in a statement read Monday on the Senate floor. “When she’s confirmed, Ms. Brooks-LaSure will bring decades of health policy experience to CMS. She’s worked on healthcare from just about every angle, short of scrubbing into the operating room herself.”

That included a stint at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Medicaid policy and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Wyden noted, along with time spent as a staffer working for Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee. As a senior staff member with the Obama Administration, he added, she helped write portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act dealing with expanding coverage.

“As we recover from the pandemic and build a stronger health care system, @CMSGov needs experienced, steady leadership,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “Chiquita Brooks-LaSure is that leader. Her confirmation as the first Black woman to lead CMS is historic, and I look forward to swearing her in this week.”

Becerra, confirmed by the Senate by a 50-49 margin in March, is the nation’s first Hispanic HHS Secretary.

Leaders of advocacy organizations throughout the healthcare industry were swift to offer public praise of the news on Tuesday, maintaining alignment with a trend that began when Brooks-LaSure’s name first started circulating as a nominee.

“The Surgical Care Coalition congratulates Chiquita Brooks-LaSure for her successful confirmation as CMS Administrator. With decades of experience on the frontlines of health policy, Ms. Brooks-LaSure is a tireless advocate for improving health equity and access to quality care,” American College of Surgeons Executive Director David B. Hoyt said in a statement. “Surgeons across the country look forward to working with CMS leadership and the entire Biden-Harris administration on advocating for patients and improving access to high-quality surgical care.”
“Chiquita Brooks-LaSure has a track record of addressing our nation’s most significant healthcare challenges,” added John K. Ratliff, Chair of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) Washington Committee. “Her deep experience and commitment to improving healthcare on behalf of patients are needed as our country faces many significant healthcare policy decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

In February, American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack offered his blessing.

“America’s hospitals and health systems applaud the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to serve as the next administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” Pollack said. “Her previous experiences as a senior CMS and HHS official who helped implement the Affordable Care Act and her work on the House Ways and Means Committee gives her a deep understanding of the importance of healthcare coverage and protections for consumers. She is well equipped to lead CMS and we look forward to working with her to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and advance the health of all our patients and communities.”

Brooks-LaSure replaces former CMS Administrator Seema Verma, who had served since March 2017 but resigned in January after butting heads with President Trump.

Verma had some advice for her successor when interviewed by CNBC shortly before her departure.

“It’s one of the biggest muscles that the federal government has over the healthcare system,” Verma said of CMS. “And they (the new nominee) shouldn’t underestimate the authority and power of CMS, and what the team can do to influence the healthcare system.”

Tuesday’s vote, along with the Senate confirmation of Kristen Clarke to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, brings the total number of Biden appointees to receive senatorial blessing up to an even 50.

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