Trump opts for Obamacare critic to revamp health system

Democrats slate appointment of Tom Price as akin to asking fox to guard hen house

 Tom Price, who has been nominated as the next US Secretary of Health and Human Services. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Tom Price, who has been nominated as the next US Secretary of Health and Human Services. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

 

US president-elect Donald Trump named a vociferous critic of Obamacare and a health policy expert on Tuesday to help him repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare program.

Republican representative Tom Price, an orthopaedic surgeon from Georgia, will be Mr Trump’s Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, and consultant Seema Verma will lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a powerful agency that oversees government health programmes and insurance standards.

Vice-president-elect Mike Pence, arriving at Trump Tower in New York, promised a “busy day” as the team continues filling key positions.

The president-elect plans to announce his choice of former labor secretary Elaine Chao to serve as secretary of transportation, according to two sources familiar with the decision.

Mr Trump cast Mr Price and Ms Verma as a “dream team” to help him once he takes office on January 20th with his campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare, officially the Affordable Care Act. Since its enactment in 2010, it has been a target of Republican attacks.

Defenders of Obamacare, including Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, said Mr Price was too extreme. Democrats also criticised the pick because Mr Price has supported barring federal funds for Planned Parenthood, which provides some abortions in addition to birth control, health exams and other services.

‘Fox guarding hen house’

The 2010 healthcare overhaul, aimed at expanding insurance coverage to millions more Americans, triggered a long, bitter fight between the White House and congressional Republicans, who said it created unwarranted government intervention in personal healthcare and private industry.

Mr Trump has said he will replace Obamacare with a plan to give states more control over the Medicaid health plan for the poor and allow insurers to sell plans nationally.

Both Mr Price and Ms Verma will need Senate confirmation in their positions, and the Trump administration will need congressional approval to repeal and change the health law.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Tuesday said Obamacare expanded coverage to millions of Americans, boosted consumer protections and shored up the finances of the Medicare program for the elderly. “We’ll see if Trump care measures up,” Mr Earnest said.

Me Trump had appeared to soften somewhat on Obamacare after meeting the president following his November 8th election victory, saying he would consider keeping some provisions that let parents keep adult children up to age 26 on insurance policies and bar insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

But Mr Price, an early Trump supporter in the US House of Representatives who leads the budget committee, is a staunch critic and congressional Republicans have drawn on his ideas for eliminating Obamacare.

Tax credits

Mr Price would also roll back the 2010 law’s expansion of Medicaid for low-income people, a change that helped Obamacare cut the number of uninsured Americans from 49 million in 2010 to 29 million in 2015.

Ms Verma helped Mr Pence, the Indiana governor, add conservative pieces to Medicaid coverage for the state’s poor by requiring beneficiaries to make contributions to health savings accounts.

Any major changes to Obamacare would have to come from Congress, but the new administration could in the meantime choose how to enforce existing provisions, such as by expanding exemptions for employers who do not want to cover birth control, said Gretchen Borchelt of the National Women’s Law Center.

Mr Trump’s work to fill his administration was accompanied by a series of controversial tweets targeting efforts to recount the presidential vote and, on Tuesday, calling for burning the US flag to be a crime. The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning is protected speech under the US constitution’s first amendment.

Considering options

Mr Trump is still considering options for three major positions: the secretaries of state, defence and treasury.

Mr Trump saw retired Gen David Petraeus, a potential candidate for the State Department or the Pentagon, on Monday. On Tuesday, he planned to meet US Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a transition official said. He will have dinner with Mitt Romney.

Mr Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mr Corker and Mr Giuliani are all in the running for secretary of state.

Mr Trump was also set to launch a “thank you tour” to states he won in the election, starting with a rally on Thursday in Cincinnati, aides said. – Reuters