Becerra Told Congress HHS Didn’t do ‘Anti-Racism.’ It does. A Lot.

Becerra Told Congress HHS Didn’t do ‘Anti-Racism.’ It does. A Lot.

  • July 10, 2024
Secretary’s word games can’t hide shift in HHS priorities

Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” As evidenced by the desire of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to run away from them, at least publicly, HHS must not believe the scent of its anti-racism policies is very appealing.

When confronted about a policy proposal from his agency in the spring of 2022, Xavier Becerra, Secretary of HHS, said to Congress, “I would challenge you to show me where in our policies we call anything we’re doing ‘anti-racism’ policies.” Whatever they’re called at HHS, Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) has documents indicating the agency is indeed prioritizing anti-racism policies. In fact, the records obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests suggest race-related initiatives are a significant focus of the department’s agenda.

On January 8, 2022, Secretary Becerra himself received a briefing from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The presentation included multiple references to racism in healthcare, with one section stating, “Systemic racism and other biases are built into healthcare delivery and, while healthcare alone will not be able to create health equity, health equity requires change in healthcare delivery.” It also featured a section titled “Anti-racism and Equity Proposal Specifics,” although the specifics were redacted in the released records.

A more recent set of records revealed HHS was encouraged to “create and implement an anti-racism plan” in a summary of proposed rulemaking. Public comments on the proposed rule praised the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a sub-agency of HHS, for its efforts to “promote better race and ethnicity data collection.”

When HHS was seeking a director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Becerra’s staff forwarded him the resume of Jeff Olivet, noting, “We anticipate that his work on anti-racism will be particularly well-received in the field, and well-aligned with the Administration’s focus on equity.” An email recommending Mr. Olivet from Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge touted his experience working to “combat racial inequity in homelessness,” his credentials as a “founding member of Racial Equity Partners,” and his understanding that homelessness is “rooted in systemic racism … requiring [a] comprehensive approach centered on advancing equity and racial justice.” Mr. Olivet’s publications include “Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC) (2016-2018)” and “Racial Inequities in Homelessness: Findings from the SPARC Study.”

Recent reports disclose the Biden HHS is implementing a program to include “equity” as a factor in scheduling organ transplants. “The organ transplant industry, like every other part of society, is not immune to racial inequities,” Secretary Becerra said. “The Biden-Harris Administration is taking concrete steps to remove racial bias when calculating wait times and rooting out profiteering and inequity in the transplant process.”

 

“The fact that Secretary Becerra felt the need to dissimulate when asked about this by Congress means he understands that ‘anti-racism’ is not the mission of HHS,” said PPT Director Michael Chamberlain. “And factoring race into transplant policy may be inimical to the most basic medical value: ‘Do no harm.’ Post-pandemic, HHS has a lot of work to do to regain the public’s trust. Certainly, obfuscating about what the department is and isn’t doing is not the way to go about it.”

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