Tom Price Okayed As New HHS Secretary

The Senate on Feb. 10 approved the nomination of Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

In his new role, Price will oversee a department with an annual budget of more than $1 trillion. HHS regulates food and drugs, sponsors most U.S. biomedical research, and combats public health threats like Zika virus, drug abuse and bioterrorism. One of Price’s main priorities as HHS secretary will be to work with President Trump to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Price, a 62-year-old orthopedic surgeon, will be the first physician in charge of HHS since Dr. Louis W. Sullivan stepped down in January 1993 at the end of the Bush administration.

According to the New York Times, the Senate voted in Price’s favor 52 to 47 after a debate focusing on his “ethics, investments, and views on health policy.”

The Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council told D CEO Healthcare it looks forward working collaboratively with Secretary Price as it strives for better health, better care, and better value. While the department’s  administration has changed, the aim of focusing on prevention, wellness, cost, quality, and patient outcomes continues, the council said.

“We will wait and see what Secretary Price proposes, but looking at his Empowering Patients First Act (H.R.2300), announced on May 13, 2015, might give us some advanced insight into his thoughts,” DFW Hospital Council President Steve W. Love said. “While this document is thoughtful, there are certain provisions that we hope he will reconsider in his current position. For example, we disagree with repealing Medicaid expansion and then implementing state high-risk pools, repealing ACA subsidies, repealing dependent coverage to age 26, and repealing all Medicare provisions in the ACA.”

Love says the repeal of Medicare provisions might trigger the reemergence of the Part D “donut hole” for Medicare beneficiaries related to prescription drugs and other benefits.

“We hope the new Secretary will garner bipartisan support to repair the ACA so we provide health care services that expand coverage and access, contain or slow healthcare expenditures and provide quality outcomes for patients,” Love said.

While Republicans have backed Price’s stance to halt Medicare and Medicaid growth, Democrats criticized his plan, which would make fundamental changes to programs that insure more than 100 million Americans.

Senator Michael Enzi (R-Wyoming) said in a statement that Price is “one of the most capable, well-prepared individuals that President Trump could have chosen.

“Who better than a doctor to head an organization that covers the wide variety of major health care programs?” Enzi said.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) agreed with Enzi, saying Price “knows more about health care policy than just about anyone.”

The New York Times reported Democrats said Price has shown bad judgement by “actively trading shares of medical and pharmaceutical companies while shaping health policy in Congress.”

Price recently re-stated a financial disclosure report, giving a “higher value” for his investment in an Australian biotechnology company. The move raised suspicion by some senators—like Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) of the Senate health committee—who contend such dealings raise ethical questions.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) agreed with Murray, saying “while Congressman Price served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, he traded in health care stocks, pushed policies that helped his portfolio, and got special access to a promising stock deal.”

Despite such skepticism, Price says he intends to fulfill his duties as outlined by the HHS, and will continue to lead efforts to change the ACA that would “roll back federal insurance standards and give states more authority.”

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