A year later, Biden’s health secretary seeks a reboot

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“Get ready, America,” he said. “We have your back.”

Yet in interviews between stops, asked about the challenges ahead, Mr. Becerra kept coming back to the pandemic. If Americans are ready to leave him behind, he is not. He said his department would “continue to promote vaccination” because it is the best way to prevent infection, and much cheaper than treating people after they get sick.

He wants to “fix the cracks in our public health system” and improve telemedicine, which may require improving broadband access in underserved areas. And he wants to “close the black holes” — that is, the racial disparities in health and access to care that Covid-19 has so painfully exposed. Mr. Becerra has backed the idea of ​​single-payer government insurance, known as Medicare for All, which puts him to the left of Mr. Biden.

“While talking with some of my international counterparts, they ask us about how it is that we are missing so many people?” he said. “For them, these problems are non-existent because they have a wide net in their public health system – they have this universal coverage. We’ve seen the gaps that happen when you don’t have universal coverage.

At 64, Mr. Becerra has a soft voice. Several current and former administration officials have said he has played a limited role in shaping pandemic policy and has not stepped in to resolve disputes between the determined doctors who run some agencies — the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health — that he oversees.

His critics say it has led to confusing messaging that has at times hampered the response to the pandemic – a claim Mr Becerra’s office disputes.

“He’s like a ghost,” said Dr. Eric Topol, founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, in a January interview. “’Oh, is there a pandemic? Oh really? Oh, there are quarrels between my agencies. Oh really?’ He did not do anything.

But Mr Blunt says Mr Becerra was unjustly blamed. He notes that the Biden White House took charge of the pandemic response before the Senate confirmed Mr. Becerra last March, putting Mr. Zients in charge.


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