President Joe Biden’s pick to be the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services stressed the importance of states accurately reporting COVID-19 data — with an emphasis on nursing home rates — in the wake of controversy in New York. 

Attorney General Xavier Becerra
HHS Secretary nominee and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

“I think it’s important that all of us do the work to make sure that our data reflects the facts and that the data is used in appropriate ways so we can make decisions on how to move forward,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on Wednesday during his nomination hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. 

His comments were in response to a question from Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) who asked where he stood following the revelation that New York officials intentionally withheld coronavirus nursing home death information out of fear it could be used against them.

The admission also came after an investigation by the New York attorney general found that the state may have undercounted coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%. 

The Government Accountability Office also has stressed the need for the federal government to retroactively collect data on COVID-19 deaths and cases from nursing homes in order to improve its pandemic response moving forward.

Becerra, however, did not provide an opinion when asked if he advocated the Biden administration launching a full investigation into the controversy. Becerra responded that he “didn’t know the facts in the particular case and it would be difficult for [him] to comment” at the moment. 

The nominee answered a wide range of healthcare-related questions, including his support for Medicare Advantage, expanding telehealth and strengthening home- and community-based services under the Medicaid program. 

“Medicaid is a lifeline. It is what’s kept so many American families from losing all hope and, in many cases, losing respect. I am absolutely prepared to work with [lawmakers] to try to do what we can to strengthen Medicaid,” he said during the hearing. 

“For so many, including seniors who have Medicare [and] oftentimes rely on Medicaid, as well, we have to make sure that we don’t lose sight of how important Medicaid has become to the entire population,” he added. 

Becerra also appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at a hearing Tuesday. The Finance Committee is the only one that gets to vote on the nomination before the full Senate votes. The committee did not provide details on when its vote would take place.