Highlights HHS’s work to increase access to quality, affordable health care, lower health care costs, and protect access to reproductive care
On Thursday, February 8, 2024, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra addressed the National Press Club in Washington, DC for his historic Headliners Luncheon.
Secretary Becerra addresses the National Press Club.
During his speech, he urged the nation to move from a “disease care system” to a “health care system”. He also highlighted the work of the Biden-Harris administration to increase access to quality, affordable health care, lower health care costs, including the cost of prescription drugs, and protect access to reproductive health care.
“We have this opportunity to make some real changes…. This president, Joe Biden, … sees the opportunity … to make a big change in our health care system,” said Secretary Becerra. “So I want to talk about what we do at HHS. Because the mandate What we got from the president of the United States was to go big on many things. Nearly 700 million shots in the arms of Americans of the COVID vaccine;… national health care data distributed across all states and the federal government;… Marshall Plan-type response to save our jobs, to save our businesses, to save our economy;… using our authority also to ensure access to reproductive health care for every American who needs it;… negotiating truths globally to work together to address future pandemics and global health care crises; undeniable exposure of the weaknesses of our expensive and burdensome health care system;… unprecedented measures to address a broken health care system public health… Those are the measures I want to talk about a little bit because they fall on HHS to enact affordable health care coverage.”
In his opening remarks, Secretary Becerra thanked the press for their work and noted the importance of newsrooms that tell critical stories:
“As an avid consumer of your news and sometimes the target of your work, I admire and appreciate what you do and how critical it is to get it right. And so, thank you very much,” said Secretary Becerra. “We will continue to hear about the big stories, but it’s the little things that happen in life that really matter. So I want to say to each of you, thank you for what you do.”
Mark Schoeff Jr. asks Secretary Becerra questions from reporters in a question and answer session.
Increasing access to health care
During his remarks, Secretary Becerra highlighted the Biden-Harris administration’s record increase in enrollment through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.
“In just these three years, President Biden has made it possible for nine million more people to have that peace of mind through the Marketplace,” said Secretary Becerra. “Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and now you have to include Marketplace as the clearinghouse for all those great Social Security programs.”
HHS recently announced that a record 21.3 million people chose an Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace plan during the 2024 Open Enrollment Period. Total plan choices include more than five million people — about a quarter — who are new to the Marketplaces and 16 million people who renewed their coverage.
Lowering health care costs
Secretary Becerra also discussed how Americans are struggling to pay for prescription drugs. He told the story he had heard from a couple in New Mexico.
“[They] had to make a decision after the man who had suffered a stroke began to recover and had regained most of his movement and abilities, but still had problems seeing on one side. And when the doctors said to him, ‘We actually have some medicine that will help speed up your recovery,’ as he approached the time to receive the medicine, they found that their roof was very pale and would not survived the winter. So they had to make a decision—buy the medicine or fix the roof? And you know, the moral of the story, they fixed the roof.”
Secretary Becerra then shared how the Biden-Harris Administration is working to lower drug prices for ordinary Americans. Through President Biden’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act, Medicare now has the power to negotiate prescription drug prices directly with drug companies. Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent initial price offers for the first 10 prescription drugs being negotiated that treat serious health issues, including diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and cancer.
During his remarks, Secretary Becerra also highlighted HHS’s work to protect reproductive care in the wake of the Dobbs decision.
“We’re also using our authority to ensure access to reproductive health care for every American who needs it — wherever they are, whenever they need it,” said Secretary Becerra. “We’re protecting privacy for patients, for providers and for doctors.”
HHS is taking action to keep reproductive health available to all who need it — at a time when women and doctors face risks and threats to their lives and well-being. Last month, HHS announced a series of actions to educate the public about their rights to emergency medical care if you are pregnant and need an abortion under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). HHS has also worked to clarify protections for birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act, including out-of-pocket contraceptive care and medical privacy protections.
“We’re supporting maternal health not just at birth, not just for the first 60 days after birth under Medicaid, but for 365 days after birth through the Medicaid program,” Secretary Becerra said in reference to the Biden-Harris Administration asking all states and territories to provide a full year of continuous postpartum coverage through Medicaid and CHIP under the American Savings Plan Act. To date, CMS has approved these postpartum coverage expansions in 40 states, plus Washington, DC, and the Virgin Islands.
“And we know that for black and indigenous communities, the rates of death and morbidity, when it comes to maternal health, are three times what they are in the white community,” he added.
At the end of his speech, Secretary Becerra spoke of the need to shift the nation from a health care system that focuses on treating disease and injury to one that focuses on preventing disease and injury.
Last week, HHS hosted its first Food is Medicine Summit, an all-day summit for stakeholders at the intersection between food and health. The event reflected Secretary Becerra’s vision to shift our country from a disease care system to a health care system through the broader HHS Food is Medicine initiative and other related government initiatives.
“We treat diseases. We do not carry welfare. We wait and wait, and then when it’s a disease, then we spend big dollars to treat it,” Secretary Becerra said. “We could save so much money, and we could do so much more, and reach so many people, if we were to move our system away from reverting to the treatment of disease to the promotion of well-being.”