Doctors divided over Trump's pick for HHS secretary

Tom Price speaking
The appointment will require Congressional confirmation and Democrats have signaled they will try to block Price.

President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday nominated a doctor-turned-congressman from Georgia as his pick to become the next secretary of Health and Human Services. While you might think doctors would be happy about the choice of one of their own—Republican Rep. Tom Price, a former orthopedic surgeon—to the country’s top health job, the nomination has sharply divided physicians.

The fact that the American Medical Association, the country's largest physicians group, immediately endorsed the choice of Price, set off a firestorm of protest from many doctors who said such an appointment will take the country in the wrong direction, according to STAT.

The appointment will require Congressional confirmation and Democrats have signaled they will try to block Price, who is a leading Affordable Care Act critic.

Numerous liberal doctors agree Price is a bad choice, according to STAT, and they swiftly took to Twitter to blast the AMA. By this morning, more than 2,000 doctors signed an online open letter titled “The AMA Does Not Speak For Us,” which was posted by the advocacy group Clinician Action Network.

Trump’s pick of Price—along with the choice of Medicaid consultant Seema Verma from Indiana as head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services—signals that Trump will move forward with conservative health policies, including goals to dismantle the ACA and transform Medicare and Medicaid programs, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The AMA was not the only medical group to back Price, as the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons were also among those who praised the choice of Price.

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Over the years in his career in politics, Price has been a voice for doctors, and if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, could initiate changes that protect fellow physicians, according to The New York Times. Based on Price’s own plan to replace the ACA, known as the Empowering Patients First Act, some of those changes might:

Make it easier for doctors to defend against medical malpractice lawsuits. Patients would have a heavier burden of proof if doctors show they followed clinical guidelines in treating patients, the Times said.

Make it easier for doctors to enter into private contracts with Medicare beneficiaries that would allow them to charge more than the amounts normally allowed.

Exempt doctors from federal antitrust laws when they negotiate contracts with health insurance plans over the terms of service.

Take the government out of the doctor-patient relationship. That has been one of Price’s major complaints about the ACA, according to NPR. "They believe the government ought to be in control of healthcare. We believe that patients and doctors should be in control of healthcare," NPR quoted Price as saying earlier this year about a Republican plan to replace the healthcare law.

However, Price may find that changing policies at HHS isn’t easy. While Price may be used to calling the shots in the operating room, he may find it a lot harder to exercise authority at the government agency, according to the Associated Press. “Almost everything the vast department does is circumscribed by law and regulations, and churned out through layers of bureaucracy not always in full communication with each other,” the news agency said.

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