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Chairman Smith Opening Statement – Hearing with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra

March 20, 2024

“The Biden Administration’s continued pursuit of a harmful agenda combined with your Department’s failure to address its own shortcomings has required this Committee to take action on multiple occasions to force your hand.”

As prepared for delivery.

“Thank you for joining us today, Secretary Becerra.

“This hearing provides an opportunity to examine the policy proposals outlined in President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS is an incredibly important agency responsible for running Medicare and many of our health programs, and critical in responding to unexpected events such as the recent cyberattack of Change Healthcare. But today, we seek your commitment to leverage your resources to ensure patients and providers have access to timely care. Turning to the budget request, I have serious concerns that these policies continue to prioritize politics over the health of the American people and will harm access to quality, affordable health care.

“The Biden Administration’s continued pursuit of a harmful agenda combined with your Department’s failure to address its own shortcomings has required this Committee to take action on multiple occasions to force your hand.

“All across the country, in districts like mine, rural and underserved patients struggle with access to care, which has been worsened by hospital closures and provider shortages in recent years.

“One-size-fits-all mandates, such as the proposed rule regarding nursing home staffing that was rejected by this Committee, will further fuel that crisis and result in the closure of more facilities.

“You failed to follow Congressional intent when implementing health care policies like the bipartisan surprise medical billing protections. During Ways and Means Committee hearings this past year and as recent as Monday down in Denton, Texas, we have heard consistently how this has resulted in less access and reduced in-network, affordable care for patients.

“You neglected to hold hospitals accountable for noncompliance with price transparency requirements until this Committee and Congress placed intense pressure on you to do so.  

“Earlier this year, the House of Representatives stood up for patients, again in a bipartisan manner, and passed the Lower Costs, More Transparency Act to enshrine these requirements into law. I hope this action signals to your department how important price transparency is to the American people and will guide your decisions going forward.

“The budget also doubles down on the Biden Administration’s scheme to expand Washington price controls on drugs. We heard from witnesses at hearings last summer that these price controls will decimate critical research into diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, depriving patients of life-saving treatments and killing up to 1.2 million jobs in the United States.

“Equally troubling is the allocation of $272 billion in new Obamacare subsidies to wealthy households making nearly $600,000 per year. Our health subcommittee’s first hearing this Congress examined the high costs of health care driven by Obamacare’s mandates and I’m disappointed to see the budget propose bailouts to private health insurance companies as their only solution. 

“In January, the House was forced to pass legislation from this Committee blocking a misguided HHS rule to eliminate funding for pregnancy resource centers, which play a vital role in supporting maternal health and prenatal care. Again, this does not line up with the administration’s stated goal of improving access to care. You claim to support a woman’s right to choose their own health care, but then you make it harder for moms to choose life for their unborn child.

“Recent reports also indicate the crisis at our southern border and the staggering influx of illegal immigrants has placed strain on an already overburdened foster care system, as well as access to care for U.S. patients at vital safety net hospitals.

“We are eager to hear your plan to address the impact of the border crisis on these services because your budget suggests there is not one.

“Words like diversity, discrimination, racial, justice, and gender all appear in your budget far more than the border. Fentanyl, the number one killer of Americans age 18 to 45, is mentioned only once – in a footnote.

“I hope recent Committee activity has made clear to you that we are demanding accountability and transparency at your department, as well as solutions that will actually improve the health and well-being of the American people.

“It’s imperative that health care policy prioritize patient outcomes over political agendas, particularly in the face of urgent public health crises.

“Thank you again for being here today, Secretary Becerra, and I look forward to discussing these important issues.”