On March 22, 2023, the Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee held a hearing with the Honorable Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as the witness. Both Democrats and Republicans expressed their concerns over the President’s FY2024 budget requests for the Department of HHS. Repeatedly, Senators questioned Becerra about how this budget would help with several health care crises- including maternal mortality, the opioid epidemic, behavioral health, and Alzheimer treatment drugs. Additionally, the child care crisis and regulations for sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children were points of contention.

In his opening statement, Secretary Becerra stated that we operate under an illness care system as opposed to a wellness care system. He argued that this must be changed, and that budget investments will significantly improve our current care system. Behavioral health concerns, specifically in regard to LBGTQ+ youth, were raised. Becerra noted that additional funding would help provide services specific to the needs of this community, especially through the 988 hotline. Several Senators were discouraged by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) refusal to approve coverage for a new drug for Alzheimer disease (which has been approved by the FDA). Despite the Secretary indicating that CMS was looking for more clinical trials, Senators questioned the center’s ability to override an FDA approval. Additionally, several Senators scrutinized the budget’s effectiveness in regard to the opioid crisis. Secretary Becerra indicated that the increased budget would help provide communities with more resources such as fentanyl testing strips.

A significant portion of the hearing discussed the placement and treatment of unaccompanied migrant children. Specifically, Senators worried that the vetting process for sponsors was not sufficient. Secretary Becerra clarified that the HHS vetting system is extensive, and 90% of children are placed with a family member. However, the background check for family sponsors is less in depth. Senators argued that a family placement does not justify reduced background checks, especially for the other possible residents of the home. Secretary Becerra understood the concerns of the committee and offered research and explanations if applicable.

By Olivia LaMarco, Policy Intern