Letter to Xavier Becerra
AHCJ is calling on Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to make himself available for questioning by reporters.
In a letter to Becerra sent Friday, the association urges regular, open press briefings similar to those held by his predecessor.
In his seven months in office, the leader of one of the largest federal departments has kept a low profile, even though the agencies he oversees, which include the CDC, the FDA, the NIH, and Medicare, make decisions affecting the lives of virtually all Americans.
“It’s time for Secretary Becerra to come out of hiding,” said AHCJ President Felice J. Freyer, who signed the letter along with fellow board members Sabriya Rice and Joyce Frieden. “The public deserves to hear from the cabinet member responsible for the programs and policies that affect our health.”
Although Becerra holds press conferences on limited topics when he travels, they are not live-streamed or open to reporters outside of the regions he visits. And he has yet to hold an open-ended press conference, at which reporters can ask him about a variety of topics.
The Senate’s vetting of a proposed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner may provide an opportunity for reporters to dig into some of the most pressing concerns in U.S. health policy, including the opioid epidemic and the standards used to clear new medical treatments for the market.
President Joe Biden on Nov. 12 announced his plan to nominate Robert Califf as FDA commissioner. Califf served in this same post in the final months of the Obama administration, from February 2016 to January 2017 (Learn everything you need to know about Califf in this blog post.) The next step will be a hearing on the nomination before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The committee expects to receive a formal nomination for Califf this week and will schedule a hearing “as soon as possible,” a HELP aide told AHCJ.
Califf likely will face questions during his next round of Senate vetting on some of the same topics he faced on the first round, including FDA’s decisions on food safety and the pace at which it approves generic drugs. Senators will likely ask him to weigh in on controversies that have emerged since, particularly the FDA’s approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm drug for Alzheimer’s disease. (The AHCJ has covered this issue in June and July blogs.)
If confirmed, Califf would also lead the FDA during the next big push in Congress to change how the agency handles drug approvals in general.
A spokesman for President Biden’s administration has pledged that any legitimate reporter who signs up with the White House press office will be invited to briefings and provided with embargoed background materials.
The promise came after AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee protested the practice of holding small group briefings with select reporters.
The press official denied that there had been any attempt to exclude people and objected to characterizing the press briefings as “closed.” Instead, he said, the White House press staff is working on updating its mailing lists. Continue reading
The state of Florida last week settled a lawsuit with the Orlando Sentinel, agreeing to provide weekly COVID-19 reports within two days and pay the newspaper’s legal costs.
It was a victory for the newspaper, and for press freedom. Our experience contains lessons – and encouragement – for other newsrooms facing obstruction by state or local officials.
Before filing suit, we persistently sought the documents for weeks, through informal and formal channels. We repeatedly told our readers about our efforts and the state’s decision to withhold information, keeping the issue alive in the public’s eye. Continue reading
As President-elect Joe Biden develops a strategy for ending the pandemic, the person who will be in charge of executing the plan will be Jeffrey Zients.
Zients, who Biden named the White House coronavirus czar, is a businessman and former top economic adviser to President Barack Obama. In the new role, he’ll be corralling federal, state and local resources to create a national testing program, to fix gaps in the medical supply chain and to expand the roll out of coronavirus vaccines.
On Monday, the Trump administration began distributing the first of 40 million doses of vaccines which are to be administered by the end of 2020. More doses of vaccines are expected to be manufactured and distributed in early 2021, and Biden pledged to get 100 million doses of vaccines to people around the country within his first 100 days of office. Continue reading