Trump Picks Tom Price to Lead Health and Human Services

  • Georgia lawmaker Price backed repeal of Affordable Care Act
  • CMS pick said Medicaid ‘dysfunctional,’ was Indiana consultant

Trump Selects Rep. Tom Price as HHS Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump said he’ll nominate one of the Congress’s main critics of Obamacare to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, the first of multiple Cabinet announcements expected Tuesday.

Republican Representative Tom Price, 62, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia and one of the original Tea Party caucus members, has served since 2015 as chairman of the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee. There, he was a leader of efforts to dismantle the health law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, and has supported GOP plans to overhaul other major health programs.

Trump also chose Seema Verma, founder of the Indiana health policy consulting firm SVC Inc., as his pick for administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In Indiana, Verma worked with Governor Mike Pence, now the vice president-elect, on Medicaid issues and the implementation of Obamacare.

Trump’s health-care nominees underscore his promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, as well as to work with Republicans to significantly overhaul Medicare and Medicaid. Price has signed on to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” plan, which would raise the age at which Americans become eligible for Medicare, and would give people the option of taking a fixed sum to shop for private coverage under the program.

Health Overhaul

If Price is confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, Republicans have promised a busy tenure. Price said Nov. 17 that Republicans plan to use a fast-track procedural measure known as reconciliation to make the changes to Medicare in 2017.

The two nominees are “the dream team that will transform our health-care system for the benefit of all Americans,” Trump said. The president-elect has also chosen Elaine Chao, a former U.S. labor secretary, to head the Transportation Department, according to a person familiar with transition planning.

Trump and Republicans have also called for an overhaul of Medicaid, the joint U.S.-state program for the poor, as has Price. Verma has said the program is “dysfunctional,” with too much administration and oversight by the federal government. In Indiana, she was the architect of the Healthy Indiana Plan, which overhauled Medicaid for non-disabled adults and placed an emphasis on personal responsibility, according to her biography on SVC’s website. The state says Healthy Indiana has successfully encouraged the use of preventive care and decreased emergency room visits.

Career in Congress

Price’s departure from the House would cap a congressional career that began in 2005 after his election to an Atlanta-area House district. He had served previously as a state lawmaker, rising to become Senate majority leader.

He grew up in Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan and its medical school, then worked for almost 20 years as a surgeon. His wife, Betty Price, was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in July 2015.

Price was chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of the most conservative members in the U.S. House, in 2009 and 2010. In May 2015, he proposed a bill to replace Obamacare that focused on tax credits, expanding health savings accounts and revising laws governing medical malpractice.

It’s one thing to make a promise to repeal the health law, it’s another to “be faced with the reality that one impact of the Affordable Care Act is that the rate of Americans who are uninsured is at an all time low,” Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said Tuesday.

Impact on Uninsured

He said he is working with his staff to develop metrics that can be used to measure the proposals Republicans come up with and what their impact would be on the number of Americans who have health insurance coverage.

“The most effective way for the Affordable Care Act to succeed is to implement it effectively,” Earnest said.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, a Democrat, said in a statement that Price’s nomination “is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house.”

“Congressman Price has proven to be far out of the mainstream of what Americans want when it comes to Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, and Planned Parenthood,” Schumer said.

Doctors Caucus

Price is a member of the Doctors Caucus, which recently has raised concern over a proposal from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a new payment system for physicians. The group said the system has the potential to “overcomplicate an already burdensome and complex” system.

Price is also an opponent of abortion, and has voted repeatedly to cut federal funds to health providers who perform the service.

The American Medical Association, which lobbies on behalf of doctors, said Tuesday that it strongly backed the nomination. “Dr. Price has been a leader in the development of health policies to advance patient choice and market-based solutions as well as reduce excessive regulatory burdens that diminish time devoted to patient care and increase costs,” the AMA said in a statement. The American Hospital Association, another lobbying group, also gave its support on Tuesday.

Price is an opponent of having Medicare negotiate drug prices directly with manufacturers, an idea Trump has backed, as have Democrats. In 2007, Price opposed a Democratic-backed bill that would do so, calling it “a solution in search of a problem” that would limit medicine availability and innovation by manufacturers.

Past Roles, Money

Price has received $596,825 in federal campaign campaign donations from pharmaceutical and health products companies, as well as $3.56 million from doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations.

Both Price and Verma have been scrutinized for ties to industry and potential conflicts.

In early 2011, the House Ethics Committee announced it had dropped an investigation of Price and two other lawmakers into their fundraising appeals to Wall Street firms at the same time they were considering legislation to overhaul financial regulation. 

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics had asked the committee to look because each of the three had “solicited or accepted contributions in a manner which gave the appearance” they were linked to an official act. Yet the Ethics Committee concluded that their positions on the legislation “were not connected to fundraising activities.”

Verma in Indiana

Verma was the “architect” of Pence’s “signature health-care plan” who “quietly shaped much of Indiana’s public health-care policy” for more than a decade, according to a 2014 report by the Indianapolis-based IndyStar on concerns about potential conflicts of interest in her consulting work with a division of Hewlett-Packard Enterprises Co., one of Indiana’s largest Medicaid vendors.

Verma said she had no role in HP’s state contracts, according to that report, and a Pence spokeswoman said Verma’s “advice and counsel” was appreciated.

She received a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in health policy and management from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree in life sciences from the University of Maryland, according to the announcement.

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