Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


Trump Picks Tom Price for HHS Secretary

By Joe Williams, CQ Roll Call

November 29, 2016 -- President-elect Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would nominate current House Budget Chairman Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"He is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American," Trump said in a statement.

The department oversees federal agencies including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. Price, a Georgia Republican, would need a simple majority of Senate floor votes to win confirmation.

Price has been a fierce critic of President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Republicans, including Trump, have made repeal of the law and passage of replacement legislation a key task for next year. As HHS secretary, Price would likely have a large amount of influence over the creation of a new system.

Price's nomination will open up the House Budget chairmanship and much jockeying is likely to ensue.

The congressman said in a statement that he is "humbled" and "there is much work to be done to ensure we have a healthcare system that works for patients, families, and doctors; that leads the world in the cure and prevention of illness; and that is based on sensible rules to protect the well-being of the country while embracing its innovative spirit."

The former physician has introduced his own legislation (HR 2300) to repeal the law. The bill would take a similar approach to the route outlined in Speaker Paul D. Ryan's "Better Way" agenda, but with several key differences. Price's legislation, for example, would provide just $3 billion in grants to states to help cover those individuals with preexisting conditions and others that would be covered by a high-risk pool. Ryan's plan would provide $25 billion.

Many lobbyists and aides expect that Republicans will seek to repeal the health care law, but include in the repeal a transition period to allow individuals on the current insurance exchanges time to get new coverage. Price also would have broad authority over how to phase out the current system. He could, for example, choose not to enforce a mandate that requires most individuals to have health insurance, a key provision in the overall success of the law. He also probably will not enforce a mandate for many employers to cover their workers. 

Divisions Among Republicans Over Medicare

Republicans also could try to enact changes to Medicare next session. Staffers for House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, are already working to draft legislation on the issue. Price, at the helm of HHS, would likely influence what those changes would be.

However, some Republicans are not eager to tackle the politically volatile issue of Medicare.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said Tuesday that he doesn't think that changes to Medicare should be part of next year's overhaul.

"I think that falls under the rule of not biting off more than you can chew," the Tennessee Republican told reporters. "One of the Democrats' big problems with Obamacare was they tried to do too much, too fast. I think the problems about the solvency of Medicare should be left for another debate, another discussion."

Democratic leaders all but dared Republicans to try to change the popular entitlement program.

"It's clear that Washington Republicans are plotting a war on seniors next year," said incoming Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York. Schumer compared the talk of Medicare privatization to Republican efforts to privatize Social Security after their 2004 electoral victory. "Just as their efforts failed then, they will fail now."  

Schumer predicted that a few Republicans might join Democrats in opposition if Price does not walk back his views on Medicare.

"Maybe he'll modify his views," Schumer said, adding, "If he sticks with them, I think, there's a chance that his nomination will fail."

Some Democrats used Price's desire to cap spending on Medicare, which is now an open-ended entitlement program, as a reason for opposing him.

"Tom Price has led the charge to privatize Medicare, and for this reason, I cannot support his nomination," said Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., a moderate who is up for re-election in 2018. "The nomination of Tom Price would put us on a direct path to end Medicare as we know it, which would raise health care costs and break a fundamental promise to seniors."

Along with Price, Trump on Tuesday morning also announced the appointment of health policy consultant Seema Verma as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the health care law.

Verma worked with Vice President-elect Mike Pence on his Medicaid expansion plan in Indiana, which provides health savings accounts to people who qualify for benefits.

Pence's Healthy Indiana plan, a conservative version of expansion, requires consumers to contribute to the cost of their coverage. Those with incomes of more than 138 percent of the poverty line who do not make their payments are kicked out of the program and not allowed to rejoin for six months. The plan was controversial within the Obama administration, which ultimately agreed to it but did not accept other proposals by Pence to lock people out of coverage for longer time periods or to prevent re-enrollment if people didn't return paperwork to renew their coverage.

Democratic Concerns

The Senate Finance Committee and the Senate health panel are expected to hold hearings on the nomination early next year.

Senate Finance top Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon reacted to Price's nomination by saying he has "grave concerns with what his policies would do to Americans." While Democrats do not have the votes to block Price's confirmation unless Republicans join them, critics of the nomination could seek to slow down action. 

Wyden said, "I intend to give his nomination a full and thorough review in the coming weeks, and I look forward to encouraging him to pursue policies that protect and strengthen the Medicare guarantee, strengthen critical safety net programs for children and families, preserve high quality care for the 73 million Americans benefiting from Medicaid and CHIP, and maintain non-discrimination rules in health care."

Wyden also voiced concerns about protecting women's health care. 

Senate Finance member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Tuesday he opposes the nomination. 

"To hand the reins to someone with Congressman Price's long record of trying to privatize Medicare is a direct betrayal of Donald Trump's campaign promise to protect and strengthen the program for America's seniors, and you can bet we will do everything in our power to block any attempt to hand the Medicare program that seniors have worked their whole lives for over to Wall Street," said Brown in a statement.

Brown said he would fight Verma's nomination to lead CMS because she "has spent the last 20 years making it harder for families to get the care they need." 

The Center for American Progress, a liberal interest group, sought to stir up opposition with a lengthy list of objections to Price's record.

"His ideas are so extreme and out of touch with the mainstream that he shows no concern for improving the health and livelihood of working Americans," said CAP President Neera Tanden.

Several physician groups, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Dermatology, are Price's largest campaign donors, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. AMA officials released a statement Tuesday strongly supporting Price's nomination.

Publication Details