May 24,2021

Press Contact:

Taylor Harvey (202) 224-4515

Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on the Nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to be CMS Administrator

As Prepared for Delivery

Madam President, the Senate is debating the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one of the most important health care jobs in the country.

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.

Bottom line, the American people need the chief of Medicare and Medicaid on the job as soon as possible. Blocking this nomination slows down important work that needs doing today.

Senators on the other side have objected to moving forward with this nomination. This afternoon I want to take a few minutes to address the issue Senator Cornyn and others have raised, but first I want to talk briefly about Ms. Brooks-LaSure’s top-notch qualifications for this job.

When she’s confirmed, Ms. Brooks-LaSure will bring decades of health policy experience to CMS. She’s worked on health care from just about every angle short of scrubbing into the operating room herself.

Starting out, she worked at the Office of Management and Budget on Medicaid policy and the Children’s Health Insurance Program – a big focus on improving health care for vulnerable people who walk an economic tightrope. She later moved to the Ways and Means Committee. As a senior staff member she helped write portions of the Affordable Care Act dealing with expanding coverage and updating the Medicare guarantee.

After the ACA became law, she went to HHS to work on its implementation. She was a leader in the effort to create marketplaces for health insurance with strong, built-in consumer protections. She’s been a leader when it comes to defending and expanding women’s health care under the ACA and all our federal health programs. After leaving HHS, she moved to the private sector and continued to work on policies that expand coverage and make health care more affordable. Chiquita Brooks-LaSure has the qualifications, the experience and the know-how to run Medicare and Medicaid, no question about it.

Now, Senator Cornyn has raised objections to moving this nomination forward. His objection relates to a decision by the Biden administration to rescind a Medicaid policy waiver that the Trump administration rushed to grant the state of Texas in mid-January.

There are a few key points members ought to understand about this issue. First, nothing will change for health providers and patients in Texas for more than a year as a result of this decision. That means there’s plenty of time to work out a solution that doesn’t get rushed and follows the right process with public comment and debate. Second, Ms. Brooks-LaSure was not a part of that decision by the Biden administration. She wasn’t on the job when it was made. Third, she made clear in her Finance Committee hearing that she’s committed to working on a bipartisan basis with state officials, Senator Cornyn and other Republican members on this issue as well as others. Clearly, she has the track record and the experience to get that done.

Obviously, Democrats and Republicans are not going to agree on every health care policy question. However, in my view, Ms. Brooks-LaSure will be the kind of CMS administrator who can help bring the two sides together to tackle big challenges.

The Finance Committee has demonstrated that working together on health care is absolutely still possible. For example, in 2017, the committee passed the Chronic Care Act, which was all about updating the Medicare guarantee.

When the Medicare program was designed, it was built to cover acute conditions – broken ankles dealt with under Medicare Part A, bouts of the flu dealt with under Part B. Medicare in 2021 is about cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more of the chronic health conditions that are a lot more complicated and more expensive to treat.

The Finance Committee wrote the CHRONIC Care Act on a bipartisan basis to help Medicare make that transition. The Trump administration put that bipartisan work on the backburner in favor of ideological talismans. I want to work with Ms. Brooks-LaSure, if and when she’s confirmed, to get it back on track.

The Finance Committee is also working on improving mental health care, because mental health has gotten short shrift in America for too long. Americans are still getting clobbered every time they walk up to the pharmacy window to buy their prescription medications. And as everybody knows, there’s an all-out, ongoing effort to get people vaccinated and end the pandemic in America.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is right at the center of taking on all these different challenges. CMS needs its leader in place. Ms. Brooks-LaSure is an excellent nominee, and she’s committed to working with both sides here in the Senate, including on the issue my colleague Senator Cornyn has raised.

I support her nomination fully, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.