Rep. Tom Price Confirmed as New HHS Secretary

The US Senate voted along party lines Friday morning in a 52-47 vote to appoint Rep. Tom Price, MD (R-GA) as head of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Price, an orthopedic surgeon, is a long-time critic of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which led all Senate Democrats to vote in opposition of the nomination.

As HHS Secretary, Price is expected to lead the agency’s regulatory strategy for repealing ACA, Modern Healthcare reports.

At the top of Price’s to-do list will be to figure out a way to keep health plans that are in the ACA’s health insurance exchanges from exiting the marketplace in 2018, which could leave 20 million people without insurance.

“Decisive action from HHS may be the only thing that can prevent a death spiral in the individual market, and even then, uncertainty about repeal, replace or repair may be too much for HHS to overcome,” Morgan Tilleman, an associate lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP’s health insurance practice, told Modern Healthcare.

Price’s confirmation comes at a time when there is little consensus around the future of the ACA. Although President Trump promised to “repeal and replace” the law once he was sworn in, clear details have not yet surfaced on how that might happen and what a replacement plan would look like.

Immediately following his inauguration the President signed an executive order instructing the rest of his administration to take steps toward repealing and replacing the ACA, which was mostly a symbolic gesture, according to a Washington Post article. However, in an interview with the Post a week after his inauguration, Trump pledged to design a law that would allow “insurance for everyone,” with further specifics to be provided after Price’s confirmation.

Then, in an interview last weekend with Bill O’Reilly, Trump hinted that an outline of new legislation could be released in 2017 but that a final plan may not be announced until 2018.

Congressional Republicans are thus far undecided on what their version of a replacement plan would look like or when legislation could be drawn up. Currently, Republican members of the House of Representatives are said to be considering a strategy called “Reconciliation Plus.” This plan would involve a budget reconciliation bill that would repeal ACA, plus additional measures that lawmakers can tack on in order to simultaneously replace what they roll back.

Any changes to the ACA will have to include help from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the program. According to Congressional Quarterly, Trump’s pick to lead CMS, Seema Verma, will undergo a Senate committee hearing on Feb. 16.

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