On March 22, 2021, Xavier Becerra, BA, JD, became the first Latino appointed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and announced the agency’s focus on ensuring affordable and accessible health care for every American.
In the aftermath of a contentious 2020 election, the January2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building, and concerns about his lack of administrative experience, the U.S. Senate HELP Committee delayed Becerra’s appointment for months. But once in position, the new secretary began immediate work to increase access to health care.
Shortly after taking office, Becerra expanded the Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine Program to all community health centers in the United States. The program began in February 2021 with 250 health centers, then expanded in March to include another 700 centers. With the most recent expansion, an additional 520 health centers operating more than 2,500 service delivery sites are now eligible to participate.
Racial and ethnic minorities make up approximately 70% of the people who have been vaccinated through the program. Additionally, more than 91% of community health center patients and families live at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
"Increasing access to vaccines among those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic is critical. By adding to the number of community health centers participating in this program, we will help make sure shots are getting to those who need them most," Becerra said. "The medical professionals at these local health centers already have trusted relationships in these communities, and this expansion will ensure every community health center in the country can be a part of our vaccination effort."
Previously, Becerra served 12 terms in U.S. Congress as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He introduced legislation like the Medicare Savings Programs Improvement Act of 2007, which expanded cost-sharing subsidies for low-income seniors who receive both Medicare and Medicaid benefits by increasing the amount of resources they could receive, and championed provisions of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, which ensured patient safety by requiring accreditation and training for physicians who perform imaging. He was also an original cosponsor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Becerra was the first Latino to serve as a member of the Committee on Ways and Means. He also chaired the Democratic Party caucus and was the ranking member of the Ways and Means subcommittees on social security and health.
“As HHS Secretary, I’m committed to building on this monumental progress to bring every American the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can take care of your family without going into debt,” he said.
Although not a healthcare provider by training, Becerra is considered a health expert, and his appointment adds him to the ranks of others in federal leadership positions. His new role allows him to continue his career work of improving access to care for all and health policy advocacy.