Biden Picks Former North Carolina Health Official to Lead CDC

June 16, 2023 by Dan McCue
Biden Picks Former North Carolina Health Official to Lead CDC
FILE - Secretary of the North Carolina Department Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen speaks during a briefing on the state's coronavirus pandemic response Tuesday, Dec.22, 2020, at the N.C. Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has picked Mandy Cohen, former secretary of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Department, to be the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cohen, who received bipartisan praise for her work as the architect and driving force behind North Carolina’s COVID-19 response, will now tackle an even steeper challenge, if that’s possible: leading the complicated and multi-layered federal health care bureaucracy to address the nation’s myriad health challenges.

In a statement released by the White House, Biden called Cohen “one of the nation’s top physicians and health leaders with experience leading large and complex organizations, and a proven track record protecting Americans’ health and safety.”

Cohen, a married mother of two — her husband Sam is a health care regulatory attorney — will replace Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who announced in May that she wanted to leave office by the end of June.

During the pandemic, she became a regular presence at state briefings, helping to allay the public’s fears over the global health emergency.

At the CDC she’ll be leading a vast array of health professionals whose job is to identify preventable health problems and control the spread of infectious diseases.

Cohen stepped down from her post at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in January after leading the state agency for just over five years.

She then went to work for Aledade, a private health care company, where she is currently serving as chief executive officer of the company’s health services unit, Aledade Care Solutions, and as executive vice president of Aledade itself.

Prior to joining the state health department, Cohen worked for more than a decade in women’s health services with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

She was also chief operating officer and chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and served as acting director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight during the Obama administration.

In those roles, the White House said Friday, Cohen was involved in many aspects of the Affordable Care Act policy development and implementation, including the expansion of coverage, insurance protections and new provider payment models. 

A graduate of Cornell University, Cohen received her medical degree from Yale School of Medicine and a Master’s in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health. She trained in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Despite her career history, nearly 30 Republican House and Senate members, including Sen. Ted Budd and Rep. Dan Bishop from her home state, have signed a letter sent to Biden saying they oppose her nomination.

In the letter, the signers wrote that Cohen is “unfit” to lead the CDC, accusing her of having “politicized science, disregarded civil liberties, and spread misinformation about the efficacy and necessity of COVID vaccinations and the necessity of masks, during her time as the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.”

Undeterred, Biden on Friday applauded Cohen for developing “innovative and nationally recognized programs that improved the health and lives of families across the state.”

In addition to the bipartisan praise she received during the COVID crisis, Biden noted she was similarly recognized for “her successful transformation of North Carolina’s Medicaid program and pivotal role in the bipartisan passage of Medicaid expansion.”

“Dr. Cohen has been recognized by leaders from both parties for her ability to find common ground and put complex policy into action. I look forward to working with Dr. Cohen as she leads our nation’s finest scientists and public health experts with integrity and transparency,” the president said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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