Dr. Rachel Levine named as assistant Secretary of Health

On January 19, President-Elect, Joe Biden nominated Dr. Rachel Levine, a Pennsylvania Health Secretary, to serve as his assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. With this new title, Levine will be the first openly transgender federal official to receive Senate confirmation.

Levine was the first transgender person appointed to a Cabinet position in Pennsylvania back in 2015. Since then, Dr. Levine became Pennsylvania’s health secretary in 2017 and led the state’s response to the opioid epidemic. She has also previously specialized in the treatment of eating disorders as Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and served as Vice-Chair for Clinical Affairs at the hospital’s Department of Pediatrics. 

Recently, she has been leading Pennsylvania’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak and has become the face of the state’s fight against the ongoing pandemic.

Last July, Levine talked to Philadelphia magazine about her holistic approach to policy as well as how she conceptualizes public health. 

“Economic opportunity is health. A living wage with an increase in the minimum wage is actually health,” she said. “Improving educational opportunities, improving nutrition, improving the environment, improving transportation for people is health. Getting rid of racism is health.” 

If Levine is appointed to the Assistant Secretary of Health, her new role would be important. She would immediately gain an authoritative trans voice on public health and instantly become an advocate for the transgender community now that access to trans health care is increasingly threatened not only in the United States but world-wide. 

Many guess that her most immediate task as an assistant secretary of health is likely to be to better manage the federal government’s handling of the pandemic.

Beyond the pandemic, she will take over departments that gained several extremely radical changes during Trump’s presidency, like The Office for Women’s Health and the Office of Population Affairs. These departments oversee many of the government’s reproductive health initiatives. The transition from Obama to Trump saw several progressive health initiatives from these departments tossed aside, including the Obama Birth Control Mandate.

Dr. Rachel Levine will be tasked with restoring several departments to the federal level and reverse many of the damage and changes that were put into play under the Trump Administration.

“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic—no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability—and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”