Healthcare industry optimistic about Tom Price, Seema Verma agency picks

Rep. Tom Price, seen here giving the Republicans' weekly address on Oct. 1, is Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Image: http://tomprice.house.gov
Though Donald Trump’s picks to lead two top government healthcare agencies are poised to usher in transformative change, major industry groups appear to be giving Tom Price and Seema Verma a warm reception.

Price, a Republican congressman from Georgia who is also a longtime orthopedic surgeon, is Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Verma, the founder and CEO of consulting firm SVC Inc., is his choice for the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

RELATED: Trump's healthcare 'dream team': Rep. Tom Price to head HHS, Seema Verma to lead CMS

The appointments would require Congressional confirmation—Democrats have signaled they will try to block Price, who is a fierce Affordable Care Act critic.

Verma, meanwhile, worked closely with Vice President-elect Mike Pence as he executed Indiana’s conservative twist on Medicaid expansion. 

Clinical skills impress

Seema Verma, Trump's
pick to lead CMS.
Image: Getty Images

To the American Medical Association, Price’s “service as a physician, state legislator and member of the U.S. Congress provides a depth of experience to lead HHS,” as Board of Trustees Chairwoman Patrice Harris, M.D., said in an emailed statement.

Echoing the AMA, American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack noted that Price’s “clinical knowledge along with his congressional experience make him an impressively qualified candidate for HHS secretary.”

The Healthcare Leadership Council, meanwhile, said it favors Price’s stance on overregulation. “Price’s work on health reform in the U.S. House exemplifies his commitment to patients and consumers as well as his understanding that the physician-patient relationship is paramount and must not be adversely affected by government action,” the group’s president, Mary Grealy, said in an emailed statement.

Indeed, Price has championed health IT legislation aimed at reducing the burden on physicians and hospitals, including seeking greater flexibility in the Meaningful Use program that guides the transition to electronic medical records, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives President and CEO Russell Branzell pointed out.

ACA stance raises fears

Not all are convinced, however, that Price is a smart pick for HHS given his commitment to repealing and replacing the ACA. Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, slammed his “abysmal record of leading the fight in Congress to dismantle the healthcare law that has expanded coverage to 20 million previously uninsured people.”

Price’s ACA replacement proposals, which include health savings accounts, high-risk insurance pools and allowing interstate insurance sales, would significantly reduce access to care, drive up healthcare costs and diminish healthcare quality, Ness argued.

Similarly, the New York Times editorial board called Price “a man intent on systematically weakening, if not demolishing, the nation’s healthcare safety net.”

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, who has indicated Senate Democrats will fight the nomination, tweeted that he was also concerned about Price's ideas for privatizing Medicare:

AHIP on board

But America’s Health Insurance Plans President and CEO Marilyn Tavenner, who was a key player during implementation of the ACA when she was CMS’ acting administrator, said in an emailed statement that she expects Price to bring a “balanced and thoughtful perspective to his role.”

Marilyn Tavenner speaking
AHIP President and CEO Marilyn Tavenner

Tavenner added that AHIP looks forward to aiding Verma’s efforts to “strengthen our nation’s healthcare system and empower Americans to improve their health and financial well-being, particularly those who depend on the valuable support and services provided through Medicare and Medicaid.”

The AHA’s Pollack had a similar view, saying Verma’s experience with the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 demonstrated an ability to use innovative models to expand coverage that “will be valuable at the national level.”

A repeal of the ACA, however, would erase the Medicaid eligibility expansions that Verma, Pence and other Republicans have embraced in some states. And while some are encouraged by Verma’s ability to make Medicaid expansion more politically palatable by requiring beneficiaries to shoulder some of the costs, others are critical of that approach, according to Kaiser Health News. 

“Early evaluations show that a lot of people don’t understand this plan and don’t understand the incentives in it,” said David Machledt, a policy analyst with the National Health Law Program.

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