In summary

As California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra’s success in fighting for affordable health care highlights his understanding of health policy.

By Richard M. Scheffler

Richard M. Scheffler is a professor of Health Economics and Public Policy in the graduate school at UC Berkeley, rscheff@berkeley.edu. He is the director of the Nicholas C. Petris Center on Health Care Markets and Consumer Welfare.

Surina A. Khurana, Special to CalMatters

Surina A. Khurana is a research assistant at the Nicholas C. Petris Center in the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley, surinak@berkeley.edu.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has a lengthy record of fighting for access to affordable health care. Given his history in health policy, confirming the nominee to the position of secretary of Health and Human Services will serve the nation well.

As the director of the Petris Center at UC Berkeley, I have advised and worked closely with the attorney general and his office on many occasions. In doing so, we have witnessed Becerra work across various areas within health care – he has been a fierce advocate for competition, scrutinizer of consolidation and litigator against anticompetitive practices. The element uniting Becerra’s work is the impact it has had on improving Californians’ access to affordable health care.

Three lawsuits stand out most to us as they exemplify Becerra’s range of expertise within health policy and his underlying commitment to bettering the health of the people he serves.

After filing a lawsuit guided by a careful investigation and review of the relevant research, Becerra reached an unprecedented $575 million settlement with health care giant Sutter Health for violating antitrust laws.

Becerra and his team found that Sutter had used its market power to drive up prices, contributing to the discrepancy between health care costs in Northern and Southern California. Sutter was forced to pay to compensate employers, unions and others covered under the class action, limit out-of-network service charges and increase transparency, among other terms.

An additional example of Becerra’s most notable work exists in his defense of the Affordable Care Act. Representing the state of California and serving the country, Becerra led 20 states and Washington, D.C., in defending the law in California v. Texas, which was recently heard by the Supreme Court.

After the federal government’s refusal to defend the ACA, Becerra gained national recognition by stepping in to defend the ACA in the landmark health care reform case that may not only determine the fate of the law, but also whether several million people lose their health insurance.

But Becerra’s record doesn’t stop with defending the major health care reform bill nor with scrutinizing California’s health systems and their use of market power. Representing California, the attorney general has had major success in battling anticompetitive pharmaceutical practices.

After Teva Pharmaceuticals agreed to pay the state $69 million for engaging in pay-for-delay practices, through which the company paid competitors to delay the entry of a generic drug, Becerra’s office called the deal the largest pay-for-delay settlement received by any state. The case led to major legislation for California and patients across the state, as California became the first state to presumptively deem such practices anticompetitive thereby helping address the skyrocketing of drug prices in recent years.

Becerra’s record in health policy has largely been felt by Californians, but his work in California has set an example for other states and his defense of the ACA is a defense of millions of Americans’ access to care. The attorney general’s prior successes highlight his deep understanding of health policy and skill in the field, while personal experience can confirm Becerra’s underlying and unwavering commitment to improving the health of the people he serves. 

His transition to head the agency that oversees the government’s insurance programs and pays for prescription drugs is one that feels natural as Becerra is well-prepared for the position.

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