ACA, MACRA critic Tom Price is Trump’s pick for HHS Secretary

Rep. Tom Price, MD, R-Georgia, will be appointed to run HHS by President-elect Donald Trump, giving the administration’s top healthcare post to a staunch proponent of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Price would be the first MD to serve as HHS Secretary since the George H.W. Bush administration, when another Georgian, Louis Sullivan, MD, ran the department. Price was an orthopedic surgeon in the Atlanta area and director of Grady Memorial Hospital’s orthopedic clinic before being elected to Congress in 2005.

He’s also been a vocal opponent of the ACA, being among the first Republicans to propose an alternative plan and proposing several bills to dismantle the law in a piecemeal fashion, such as repealing its medical-loss ratio provisions and preventing the U.S. Treasury from implementing tax subsidies or penalties for buying (or not buying) health insurance.

Price’s healthcare reform ideas differ in many ways from the ACA. His proposal would have offered fixed tax credits, not tied to income, for people to buy insurance, would’ve excluded patients with pre-existing conditions from immediate coverage if they hadn’t been insured for the prior 18 months, and created state-run high-risk pools for those deemed too expensive to cover by private insurers.

Some of those ideas made their way into the House Republicans’ “Better Way” healthcare blueprint, which Price supported.

"We believe that patients and doctors should be in control of health care," Price said when the proposal was unveiled in June. "People have coverage, but they don't have care."

He also expressed similar fears about the final version of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) rule,  saying in an October statement he was “deeply concerned about how this rule could affect the patient-doctor relationship.”

Major professional organizations praised the pick, citing Price’s medical experience. The American Medical Association called him a “leader” in developing policies to “advance patient choice and market-based solutions.” The American Hospital Association said his clinical expertise makes him “uniquely qualified” for the role.

On the health IT side, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) said Price was “at the forefront” on issues like shortening the reporting period within the Meaningful Use program.

The reception was considerably frostier among Democrats. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, the incoming Senate minority leader, denounced the selection.

"Congressman Price has proven to be far out of the mainstream of what Americans want when it comes to Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood,” Schumer said. “Thanks to those three programs, millions of American seniors, families, people with disabilities and women have access to quality, affordable health care. Nominating Congressman Price to be the HHS secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house.”