Politics & Government

Trump taps vocal Obamacare critic, Tom Price, for health and human services secretary

President-elect Donald Trump nominated Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a master of legislative process who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to be secretary of health and human services.

“Chairman Price, a renowned physician, has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on healthcare policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity,” Trump said in a statement. “He is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American.”

Price, a close ally of House Speaker Paul Ryan, has been an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, saying at one point it’s “putting Washington in charge by breaking promises and undermining the doctor-patient relationship.”

He has introduced his own health care legislation to replace Obamacare in every Congress since 2009. His “Empowering Patients First” Act — the fourth and most recent version of his plan — seeks to repeal it by providing tax credits to purchase private health insurance based on age instead of income.

“What you all are planning is to increase drastically the intrusion of the federal government in the practice of medicine,” he told Democrats at a 2009 hearing. “You talk about what your plan does. I’ll tell you what it does. It increases the size of government; and it increases the intrusion of government; it increases the taxes on virtually every single America. It kills jobs. It will destroy healthcare in this nation.”

Price’s skill as a legislative craftsman will be a huge asset to Trump, who knows little about the complex ways Congress considers and writes bills as he tries to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.

As a physician and leader of the House’s conservative forces, Price is regarded as someone who understands the Affordable Care Act and how it could be replaced. And he’s been sympathetic to finding ways to cut Medicare costs, including some form of privatization.

“Tom is a fellow Georgian who understands that we need to stop Washington’s takeover of our health care system,” Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. said. “As a doctor, he is seen as a leading voice on health care policy and has a common-sense plan to replace Obamacare that will lower costs and put patients in charge of their health care choices.”

“Congressman Tom Price will be a great Secretary of Health and Human Services,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted. “He is the right leader to help Congress replace Obamacare.”

Trump also nominated Seema Verma as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Price was chairman of the Republican Study Committee, which since the early 1970s has been the influential voice of House conservatives. It’s been a springboard for conservative leaders — among its former chairmen was Mike Pence, a congressman from Indiana who’s now vice president-elect.

The former orthopedic surgeon from Roswell, Georgia replaced Ryan as the chairman of the House budget committee last year. Ryan, R-Wis. has relied on Price, pushing him at one point for House majority leader, the chamber’s second most powerful position. Price didn’t get the job.

Price has been one of the conservatives’ most vocal members regarding budget issues. As Budget Committee chairman, he’s argued for overhauling the 42-year-old law that governs how federal budgets are written. He wants to give individual members, who often feel shut out of the process, more say.

After Trump’s surprise victory, Price announced that GOP leaders would begin efforts to overhaul the Medicare program during the first half of 2017.

Price, who was elected in 2004 to represent Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, previously served in the Georgia State Senate. He was the first GOP Senate majority leader in state history as the Republican party took control of the state legislature.

Before serving in the state legislature, Price worked in private practice as an orthopedic surgeon for two decades. He was also an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine and Medical Director of the Orthopedic Clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he trained resident physicians.

Price has taken standard conservative positions on most social issues. He’s been a staunch opponent of abortion and critic of Planned Parenthood.

The Susan B. Anthony List, a non-profit which works to reduce abortions, immediately praised Trump’s decision.

“As HHS Secretary, he will play a key role in developing a robust health care reform proposal that protects life and consciences, while promoting options for low-income individuals and families,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said.

LGBTQ advocates slammed Price when the news of Trump’s choice broke on Monday night. In 2007, Price co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and later that year voted against a bill banning employers from discriminating against gay people. He also criticized the Obama administration’s guidelines to let transgender students use the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, calling them “absurd” and “yet another abuse and overreach of power” by the president.

“Price’s hateful record on LGBTQ issues shows that he lacks an understanding of basic human rights and dignity,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, calling Price “completely unfit” for the position in a Facebook post.

As Cabinet secretary, Price will oversee 11 agencies including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

The current secretary, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, has been spending her final months in the position trying to put Obamacare on solid footing in order to survive into the next administration.

“The American people don’t want to go back,” she said the week after the election. “They want Republicans and Democrats to come together and make the law better.”

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid

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