ACA critic, Minnesota health economist Stephen Parente appointed to leadership post at HHS

Stephen Parente, PhD, MPH, MS, has been appointed by President Donald Trump to be an assistant secretary of planning and evaluation at HHS.

Parente has a long resume as a health economist and policy expert. He’s spent the last 17 years at the University of Minnesota, currently holding the title of Minnesota Insurance Industry Chair of Health Finance in the Carlson School of Management and director of the school’s Medical Industry Leadership Institute. He’s had forays into the political realm as well, serving as a health policy advisor to the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.

He’s also been an opponent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In a 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal, he incorrectly predicted the ACA would cause the number of uninsured to rise to 40 million because coverage through the law’s marketplace would become too expensive. Instead, the law has been credited with dropping the number of people without health insurance to its lowest levels.

Some of the other warnings about the ACA have been turned out to be accurate, like his 2011 piece for Kaiser Health News when he said most states wouldn’t set up their own exchanges as the ACA had intended.

In a more recent article, published Jan. 30 by Morning Consult, Parente argued the ACA market could survive without the individual mandate, but it would need some other provision to encourage continuous coverage.

“For now, giving consumers relief from the individual mandate (of which only half of those required to pay are refusing and breaking the law) will not collapse the market, especially if the repeal legislation carries funding to provide subsidies during any transition. But like a fading ice sculpture in winter, the three-legged stool needs a new mold and some fresh material to achieve its aim of making insurance available for everyone,” he wrote.

Parente’s role will be to act as “principal adviser” to HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, on developing, researching and coordinating policy. He will replace Richard Frank, PhD, who served in the planning and evaluation post from 2013 until June 2016.