Trump chooses conservative Georgia congressman, a harsh critic of Obamacare, to be Health secretary

President-elect Donald Trump plans to select House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) to be his Health and Human Services secretary, two people familiar with the decision said late Monday.

In picking Price, Trump tapped an arch-conservative lawmaker and leading critic of the Affordable Care Act to lead his push to roll back President Obama’s signature health law.

Price, a six-term congressman from suburban Atlanta, has never held an executive position comparable to leading the federal Department of Health and Human Services, a behemoth that includes the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the agency overseeing Medicare and Medicaid.

Three of the four previous Health and Human Services secretaries were former governors. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, would be the first physician to serve as the department’s secretary since Dr. Louis Sullivan, who held the post from 1989 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush.

He would also be among the most politically conservative Health and Human Services secretaries in history. And as a member of House leadership, he would bring to the Trump administration a revolutionary governing agenda closely aligned with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

As a leading member of the tea party caucus in the House, Price has led calls for dramatically cutting federal programs, particularly for low- and moderate-income Americans, and for repealing and replacing Obamacare, which he has called “monstrous legislation.”

“Repealing this misbegotten monstrosity is the first step toward real healthcare reforms that empower patients and actually reduce costs,” he said a few months after Obama signed the health law in 2010.

Price has been particularly critical of provisions in the law that require insurers to offer a basic set of protections in all of their plans and that provide federal aid to states to allow them to expand their Medicaid programs for the poor.

Price, like Trump, has long argued that reducing federal regulation would make health insurance and medical care more affordable.

And his proposed replacement relies heavily on long-held conservative healthcare ideas, such as allowing insurance companies to sell health plans across state lines and placing limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.

In place of Medicaid, Price would provide low-income Americans and others with tax credits to shop for private health plans that would not be subject to as many federal rules as Medicaid.

And, like most congressional Republicans, he would give states much broader discretion to redesign their healthcare safety nets, freeing them from regulations that dictate who must be covered and which benefits must be offered.

“We can improve our healthcare system while reducing costs and saving taxpayer money,” he wrote in a 2013 op-ed in the conservative National Review.

Price has at times worked across the aisle with Democrats on health policy. Before the advent of the Affordable Care Act, he co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would have made it easier for states to pursue their own healthcare reform efforts.

But Price’s healthcare proposals, particularly to slash regulation of health insurance, have been viewed skeptically by most experts.

And his efforts to restrict abortion rights, privatize Medicare coverage and push through unprecedented federal spending cuts have been fiercely criticized on the left. 

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California and a leading consumer advocate in the state, blasted Price’s selection.

“This [planned] nomination signals the new president-elect's plans to undo the guarantees of not just Obamacare, but Medicare and Medicaid as well,” Wright said.

“Despite President-elect Trump's promises to protect Medicare, his choice for HHS secretary would end traditional Medicare, privatizing it into a voucher program that will cover some, but not all, of the cost of coverage."

Robert Greenstein, head of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the blueprint Price unveiled this year — which would have slashed more than $6 trillion to balance the federal budget over the next decade — would have produced “the most severe budget cuts in modern history in assistance for Americans of limited means.”

Greenstein noted that that while low-income programs account for 28% of federal domestic program spending, excluding defense spending and interest on the debt, those programs accounted for 60% of the cuts in the House budget.

Price called his budget a “foundation for growth.”

“It reverses the drift toward ever higher spending and larger government,” he said this year. “It reinforces the innovation and creativity stirring in the myriad institutions and communities across the country, and it revitalizes the prosperity that creates ever-expanding opportunities for all Americans to pursue their destinies.”

Twitter: @noamlevey

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UPDATES:

7:55 p.m.: This story was updated with reaction from consumer advocate Anthony Wright.

This story was originally published at 7:40 p.m.

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