February 17, 2017 at 5:00 am ET
While the pun about President-elect Trump nominating former Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services is so obvious you just have to make it (indeed both Forbes and The Hill did a couple months ago), the sentiment is perfectly apt. In a time of shocking health care-related debt and unfunded obligations, the right person to oversee the federal government’s health care programs is a physician-budget hawk.
His confirmation last week was on relatively thin, partisan lines, but luckily his expertise will benefit Americans of all political persuasions.
Price has the resume people should demand for the position of HHS secretary: He graduated with an MD from the University of Michigan Health System before practicing as an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta for more than 20 years. But he sacrificed his lucrative practice for a congressional bid in 2004. He’s been a member of the most powerful committee in D.C., Ways and Means, where he served on the Health and Human Resources subcommittees. He was also chairman of the House Budget Committee.
If you drew a Venn diagram of public health policy — with a circle each for medical, legislative, and budget experience — Price would be exactly in the middle.
Even Price’s detractors have conceded his qualifications. In a polemic against him, the left-leaning Atlantic had to admit that “he’s a seasoned health-policy thinker who knows the minutiae of the major public-insurance programs and reforms” while describing his Empowering Patients First Act as “the most comprehensive Republican alternative” to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.
Price first proposed the EPFA in the 111th Congress and has reintroduced every Congress since then. The bill provides sensible conservative solutions to modern health problems: It creates and expands tax credits for buying health insurance, provides for interstate health insurance markets, and reforms medical malpractice lawsuits.
That last one is a reform so painfully obvious for reducing the cost of health care, you can’t understand why Democrats are so scrupulous in avoiding it (unless you quickly check that they receive 70 percent of the campaign donations made by lawyers).
But while Price’s leadership on health care may start with EPFA, it doesn’t end there. In an extensive speech to the Heritage Foundation outlining how conservative principles can reduce public health care costs, while keeping the realistic benefits society has promised, he cited President Bush’s Medicare Part D plan. He said:
“This is not exactly a novel concept. We already have examples – like Medicare Part D – where providing seniors the freedom to choose has led to higher rates of satisfaction and lower than predicted costs.”
In denouncing Obamacare’s intrusive Independent Payment Advisory Board , Price said:
“Patients, families, and doctors should make medical decisions, not Washington, DC. The Independent Payment Advisory Board is a direct threat to quality, innovative and responsive health care for America’s seniors. This board of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats has the power to deny care to seniors by deciding unilaterally what care will be paid for. Repealing IPAB will help protect the patient-doctor relationship for Medicare beneficiaries. It is part of what must be a broader effort to focus attention on solutions that put patients first.”
In seeking to end Obamacare’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, which is unaccountable to the Congress or (curiously) even the president, Price said:
“CMMI’s mandatory demonstrations could potentially harm patients and providers because CMMI is making participation in the demonstrations mandatory, rather than voluntary, before we know how they will affect access to care, quality, and outcomes. CMMI has overstepped its authority and there are real-life implications—both medical and constitutional. That’s why we’re demanding CMMI cease all current and future mandatory models.”
Price has been a voice for many in the health care field who have seen their industry subjected to continuing government intrusion and over-regulation. It’s an unsurprising phenomenon that as government has gotten more involved in health care, more physicians have run for Congress. In 2014, The New York Times reported that 20 members of Congress held medical degrees, a number that doubled over the previous decade, and for the 54 years before then, only 25 physicians had served in either house.
It’s likewise unsurprising that the overwhelming majority of the doctors who run for and serve in Congress are Republicans. In 2013, 11 GOP doctors ran for the Senate. Last year, Republicans fielded two physician candidates for president in Ben Carson and Sen. Rand Paul. But Price has sprung over all of them in national prominence and — despite partisan obstinance — federal authority as well to, as he said, “ensure we have a health care system that works for patients, families, and doctors; that leads the world in the cure and prevention of illness; and that is based on sensible rules to protect the well-being of the country while embracing its innovative spirit.”
His confirmation is a victory for patients, health care providers, and free markets.
Ahem. Dr. Price, come on down.
Jared Whitley has worked in Washington, D.C. for 10 years and began his career as a health sciences reporter in his native Utah. His experience includes time working for the U.S. Senate, the George W. Bush White House and the defense industry.
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