Donald Trump Signals Big Health Policy Changes Are Coming

Picks of Tom Price, Seema Verma suggest full speed ahead for dismantling Affordable Care Act, transforming Medicare and Medicaid

From The Wall Street Journal
By Louise Radnofsky
Updated Nov. 29, 2016 3:46 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—In tapping Rep. Tom Price and Medicaid consultant Seema Verma Tuesday for top health positions, President-elect Donald Trump has signaled that he intends to put conservative health-policy goals at the forefront of his administration.

Mr. Price, a 62-year-old former orthopedic surgeon who now chairs the House Budget Committee, would head a Department of Health and Human Services more recently led by former governors and heads of smaller organizations.

The six-term congressman from Georgia has spent years discussing and developing plans to replace the Affordable Care Act and overhaul Medicare to boost the role of private insurers. He has indicated his desire for Republicans to pursue both goals while they hold Congress and the White House.

Ms. Verma, 46 years old, has been picked to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A longtime consultant, she helped broker a major deal between the Obama administration’s CMS officials and Mike Pence as governor of Indiana that expanded Medicaid eligibility in his state in exchange for new rules for some beneficiaries to contribute toward their care.

She has since aided other states seeking similar requirements for enrollees in Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income Americans that is the single largest source of health insurance in the U.S. Her selection suggests there will be more flexibility for states that want to seek such waivers.

The pair would take leading roles in implementing longstanding Republican health-care ideas, including voiding the Affordable Care Act, capping federal spending on Medicaid and allowing states more leeway to run the program as they choose, and give seniors the choice of purchasing private insurance coverage or staying in the traditional Medicare plan.

“Dr. Price and Ms. Verma will really be our point people leading the charge on this front, working hand in hand with our congressional leaders” and Mr. Pence, transition team spokesman Jason Miller said Tuesday.

The congressman has said before that Republicans have offered “literally hundreds” of alternatives to the 2010 health law, and one of those plans has been his own, which relies heavily on fixed-value tax credits to help people obtain private coverage, including leaving government-run programs if they choose.

If confirmed to lead HHS, he would retain some influence over his former colleagues’ deliberations to dismantle the law, as well as strategic considerations about how to handle the ensuing disruption.

On Tuesday his credentials were deemed solid by congressional Republicans, as well as groups opposed to abortion rights who threw their support behind the Trump-Pence ticket.

“Dr. Price’s unique experience, clear understanding of health and budget policy issues, and strong work ethic have been invaluable assets to our committee,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Texas), the House Ways and Means chairman.

“He is staunchly pro-life and never wavers from his principles,” said Marilyn Musgrave, a former Republican congresswoman who is now vice president of government affairs for the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List.

Democrats and their allies criticized the pair’s records. The incoming Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said he’s urging his Democratic colleagues to give Mr. Price “a thorough, thorough vetting,” and said Mr. Price’s Medicare proposals are tantamount to privatizing the program.

“This is the kind of issue where Democrats have been completely united against privatizing Medicare and a lot of Republicans have been dancing on the head of a pin because they know the hard right of their party wants it but they know it’s so unpopular with the public,” he said.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said Ms. Verma “has spent the last 20 years making it harder for families to get the care they need.”

“Tom Price poses a grave threat to women’s health in this country,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the network of clinics that provide abortions, as well as birth control and other health-care services.