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Trump chooses harsh critic of ACA to head HHS

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WASHINGTON — The choices of Tom Price and Seema Verma for top health positions under Donald Trump have reaffirmed the president-elect’s commitment to toppling the Affordable Care Act.

Price, a six-term Republican congressman from Georgia and fierce critic of Obamacare, was picked as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), while Verma, a health care consultant, was selected as administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Verma helped craft a deal for some Medicaid recipients in Indiana to contribute toward their care in exchange for the program’s statewide expansion. She has also helped other conservative states seeking similar ­concessions.

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Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.)

Price, an orthopedic surgeon, “is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible health care to every American,” Trump said in a statement.

The president-elect credited Verma with “decades of experience advising on Medicare and Medicaid policy and helping states navigate our complicated systems.” He said she and Price form “the dream team that will transform our health care system for the benefit of all ­Americans.”

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores welcomed the nominations. “We are enthusiastic to help leverage pharmacy to improve Americans’ health and well-being,” said president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson. “When it comes to the accessibility, quality and affordability of health care, pharmacies are doing more than ever before and can be utilized even more effectively for the good of patients and for the benefit of society. NACDS has a powerful story to tell, and we look forward to working with these leaders to put that story into action in new and innovative ways.”

“Collaboration is absolutely essential to maximize the potential of the health care delivery system, and to prevent policies that stifle it,” Anderson added. “NACDS looks forward to engaging completely in the ongoing work of developing and implementing solutions that benefit American patients and consumers.”

Price, who represents the wealthy northern suburbs of Atlanta and chairs the House Budget Committee, has helped draft several alternatives to the ACA, which Trump promised to do away with on his first day in office. Price’s own bill, the Empowering Patients First Act, would supplant mandated health insurance with a free market-based system, including less stringent consumer protections and greater freedom for physicians.

Citing the sharp rise in premiums coming next year for ACA plans, he said before the election, “Every single day Obama­care is making the quality of health care in this country worse. … The president and Democrats want to throw more tax dollars at the problem and want to pass more laws to prop up Obamacare, but the last thing we need is more government involvement in health care. American patients and taxpayers cannot afford Obama­care, and clearly this law was doomed from the start.”

While many Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, vacillated about Trump during his campaign, Price’s support was unwavering. In May, he organized a statement by nine GOP House committee chairs pledging fealty to Trump and calling on “all Americans to support him.”

Ryan tweeted that Price “has made health care his life’s work. He is the absolute perfect choice for HHS secretary.”

Price’s nomination left incoming Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer “incredibly disappointed.” The New York Democrat commented, “When it comes to issues like Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood, congressman Price and the average American couldn’t be further apart. Between this nomination of an avowed Medicare opponent to serve as HHS secretary and Republicans here in Washington threatening to privatize Medicare, it’s clear that Republicans are plotting a war on seniors next year.”

A past chairman of the conservative Republican study committee, Price has been affiliated with the House tea party caucus and has blasted a “vile liberal agenda that is threatening everything we hold dear as Americans.” His congressional website describes him as “devoted to limited government and lower spending.”

Verma is president, chief executive officer and founder of SVC Inc., a national health policy consulting company. For more than 20 years, she has worked extensively on a variety of policy and strategic projects involving Medicaid, insurance and public health, working with governors’ offices, state Medicaid agencies, state health departments, state departments of insurance, as well as the federal government, private companies and ­foundations.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said, “We cannot put the health care of more than 600,000 Ohioans who rely on Medicaid and more than 130,000 Ohio children and families who rely on CHIP [the Children’s Health Insurance Program] in the hands of Seema Verma, who has spent the last 20 years making it harder for families to get the care they need.”


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