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Healthcare Groups React to HHS Secretary Confirmation

News  |  By Philip Betbeze  
   February 13, 2017

Tom Price, President Trump's pick to lead the U.S. Department of Human Services, is the first physician to hold the office since the 1990s. He has vowed to take down Obamacare.

Healthcare industry groups hailed and hammered Rep. Tom Price, (R-GA) MD Friday after his appointment as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was approved 52-47 by the Senate.

Price is the first physician to lead HHS since President George H. W. Bush appointed Louis Sullivan, MD. Sullivan served from 1989 to 1993.

Opposition to the nominee centered on his opposition to and determination to weaken the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Another focus of the confirmation hearings was the orthopedic surgeon's stock trades while he was a member of the House.

Reactions from industry associations and groups ran the gamut.

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The Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition of chief executives from across healthcare, including health services giant Baylor Scott & White Healthcare and Walgreens to the device and implant manufacturer Stryker, praised Price's confirmation.

"We view this as a vote for patients and for strengthening our nation's healthcare system," said HLC President Mary R. Grealy. "Dr. Price brings to HHS the healthcare insights of a practicing physician and the policy knowledge he demonstrated as House Budget Committee chairman. These are assets that will enable him to begin work immediately enhancing the quality and accessibility of care for all Americans."

In a joint statement, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons praised Price, calling him "a staunch advocate for the preservation of the doctor-patient relationship, a fierce protector of private practice and a stalwart supporter of academic medicine."

Frederick A. Boop, MD, the association's president, said in a statement that "as a practicing physician, [Price] understands all aspects of the healthcare system, which is essential to run HHS effectively."

Other organizations bemoaned his confirmation, however.

Physicians for a National Health Program President Carol Paris, MD, called his appointment a "body blow to the health and welfare of all Americans," adding that Price's vision for reforming healthcare would result in millions of Americans losing their existing health insurance coverage, and millions more "having to make do with bare-bones policies that offer little to no meaningful protection." She also said he could be expected to "undermine" Medicare, Medicaid and safety net hospitals.

The Center for Medicare Advocacy, a Connecticut-based nonprofit that provides resources and legal help to Medicare beneficiaries and their advocates, warned that Price could be counted on to help House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) privatize Medicare.

"It would be tragic if renewed efforts to privatize Medicare succeed in returning the health of older and disabled people to the profit-driven insurance industry," CMA said in a prepared statement.

Other organizations were simply congratulatory, accepting Price's confirmation and attempting to move forward.

Such was the tone of a statement from America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry association for commercial health insurance companies. AHIP's president, Marilyn Tavenner, was the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services during the second Obama administration.

"AHIP congratulates Dr. Price on his confirmation. We look forward to working with him and his staff to develop and implement consumer-focused, private-sector solutions that will make health care more affordable and accessible for every American," she said.

America's Essential Hospitals, a 275-member association of nonprofit hospitals—many of them safety net hospitals, congratulated Price on his confirmation, despite the threat his efforts may pose to its members under an ACA repeal.

"Secretary Price has an extensive clinical, administrative, and academic background in healthcare and long experience as a legislator," reads the organization's statement.

"He was shaped in part by his earlier work caring for low-income and other vulnerable people at an essential hospital—institutions that fill a safety-net role, provide lifesaving services to all, and drive economic activity throughout communities."
Price was formerly director of orthopedics at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, that city's safety net facility.

AEH said it looked forward to working with him and the administration to "ensure essential hospitals can sustain their commitment to disadvantaged people and underserved communities."

Price took the oath of office Friday morning, administered by Vice President Mike Pence.

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.

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