After Tom Price resigned as HHS secretary on Friday, President Donald Trump named longtime Health and Human Services official Don J. Wright as acting secretary. But CMS Administrator Seema Verma, who has ties to Vice President Mike Pence, is the more likely choice for the permanent post.
Wright, M.D., has served at HHS for more than a decade, according to the department, most recently as acting assistant secretary for health since February. Wright has also served as deputy assistant secretary for health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve the American people and the Administration in this role,” Wright said. “I look forward to ensuring that the important work of the Department in support of the president’s agenda continues to move forward during this interim period.”
Wright has served as director of the office since 2012, according to the HHS site. He leads policy and prevention discussions on public health in the office of the assistant secretary for health.
As director of ODPHP, Wright also oversaw programs like Healthy People 2020, which set a framework for public health priorities based on 10-year national health objectives, along with the enactment of evidence-based policies like exercise and dietary guidelines.
Before joining HHS, Wright directed the Office of Occupational Medicine for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He is also a board-certified physician in both family and preventative medicine.
Wright was named interim HHS secretary Friday evening after Price resigned following more than a week of controversy surrounding his use of private planes for travel, a story first uncovered by Politico. The government launched two investigations, and Price promised to repay the cost of his seats on these jets—about $52,000—before he resigned.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma leads field of candidates to replace Price
As Trump looks for a permanent replacement for Price as HHS Secretary, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma is likely at the front of the pack.
Prior to heading up CMS, Verma was the president, CEO and founder of SVC Inc., a national health policy consulting company. She has close ties to Vice President Mike Pence, working with him on Indiana’s Medicaid expansion plan when he was governor. At the time, she was being paid by contractors the state hired to carry out the program, including Hewlett Packard, the largest operator of state Medicaid claims processing systems.
Her immediate concern is navigating the 2018 open enrollment period as Republicans in Congress failed on multiple attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Verma was confirmed as CMS head in March by a 55-43 vote that fell mostly on party lines. Following her confirmation, industry reaction was mostly positive, with Federal of American Hosptial's CEO Chip Kahn calling her a "problem solver."
Verma served as president and CEO of SVC, Inc., a healthcare consulting company she cofounded. She also worked closely with Pence on Indiana's Medicaid expansion plan when he was governor of the state.
Another person of interest is Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, according to the AP, as he earned bipartisan support during his confirmation and is well-known in policymaking and healthcare industry circles.