DW blog: The First 100 Days

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White House names HHS deputy secretary

April 11, 2017
The Trump Administration has nominated Stephen Parente to serve as the assistant secretary of planning and evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He will be the principal advisor to HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD. Parente is a health care economist and currently works as a professor at the University of Minnesota.


HHS hires health IT lead

March 22, 2017
Former U.S. Rep. John Fleming, MD, (R-La.) has been hired to serve under HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, as deputy assistant secretary for health technology. According to news reports, Dr. Fleming supports the widespread use of health information technology and says he will work to improve health IT interoperability. During his time on Capitol Hill, he spoke out against the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), citing concerns about the administrative burden that the law would have on physicians.


President Trump picks HHS deputy secretary

March 15, 2017
President Trump has announced his intent to nominate Eric D. Hargan, JD, to serve as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Hargan is a shareholder of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, in its Health and FDA Business practice. He previously served as deputy general counsel, principal associate deputy secretary, and acting deputy secretary of HHS under the George W. Bush Administration. Hargan’s nomination will require a Senate confirmation.


Senate confirms White House pick for CMS lead

March 13, 2017
The Senate has voted 55 to 43 to confirm Seema Verma as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


President Trump pick for CMS administrator moves forward

March 2, 2017
The Senate Finance Committee has voted 13-12 to approve Seema Verma as the next CMS administrator. Verma’s nomination will now go to the full Senate for a vote.


Senate Finance Committee postpones vote on CMS administrator

March 1, 2017
The Senate Finance Committee has postponed a vote on President Trump's pick for CMS administrator. The Committee took a preliminary vote of 15-11 with proxy votes to approve Seema Verma. However, because the vote was only 9-9 without proxy votes, the Committee will have to vote again. Per the Committee's rules, proxy votes do not count.

Verma helped create and update the Healthy Indiana Plan ― Indiana's consumer-directed Medicaid program ― under Gov. Mitch Daniels and Vice President Mike Pence when he served as governor of Indiana. Prior to her role at SVC, Verma served as vice president of planning for the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County in Indiana and director for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials in Washington, D.C.


Senate confirms Tom Price for HHS Secretary

Feb. 10, 2017
The U.S. Senate has voted (52-47) to confirm Dr. Tom Price as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under President Donald Trump. Dr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, previously served as congressman for Georgia’s 6th district and as House Budget Committee chair and would be the first physician to serve as secretary of HHS in nearly 25 years. Dr. Price has worked on issues affecting dermatology, such as Medicare payment reform, shortening EHR reporting periods, and ensuring that the MACRA transition included opportunities for physicians to avoid penalties. Dr. Price has also demonstrated a commitment to decreasing over-burdensome regulations associated with EHR, MACRA, and quality reporting.

In other confirmation news, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Seema Verma, President Trump's pick for CMS administrator, next week.


Senate Committee approves Dr. Price

Feb. 1, 2017
The Senate Finance Committee has approved the nomination of Tom Price, MD, to serve as secretary of HHS. Dr. Price's nomination will now go to the full Senate for a vote.

A vote on Dr. Price's approval was delayed yesterday in the Senate Finance Committee after committee Democrats boycotted the vote. The Committee rules require that at least one Democratic member must be present for the Committee to proceed. However, today Committee Republicans agreed by unanimous consent to temporarily change the committee’s rules, thereby allowing the committee to vote in favor of approving Dr. Price.


Senate Finance Committee schedules vote on Dr. Price nomination

Jan. 30, 2017
The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled an Open Executive Session for Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 10:00 a.m. eastern to discuss and potentially vote on the nomination of Dr. Tom Price as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, previously served as congressman for Georgia’s 6th district and as House Budget Committee chair and would be the first physician to serve as secretary of HHS in nearly 25 years.


Dr. Price faces Senate HELP committee in nomination hearing

Jan. 18, 2017
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a nomination hearing for Rep. Tom Price, MD (R-Ga.) ― President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The American Academy of Dermatology Association attended the hearing. Among several health care related issues that were addressed during the hearing, most notably Dr. Price was asked about his thoughts on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), access to drugs, and regulatory burdens on physicians. Additionally, Dr. Price addressed concerns about his financial ties to a medical device company.

ACA replacement
When asked by Committee Chair Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) about Dr. Price’s goal for an ACA replacement plan, Dr. Price stated that health care needs to be affordable, accessible, high quality, and responsive to patients, offer incentives for innovation, and ensure choices are made by and preserved for patients. When asked about the timing of repeal and replace, he stated, “I think that one of the important things that we need to convey to the American people is that nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from anybody.” Dr. Price also expressed an interest in implementing high-risk pools and expanding the use of health savings accounts in a replacement plan to cover general health services.

Medicare drug price negotiations
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked Dr. Price if he would join him and Democrats in efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and allows drugs to be imported from Canada. Without confirming his position on government price negotiations or importation, Dr. Price stated that the cost of drugs is a high priority for all Americans and he committed to working with Congress in addressing the drug pricing issue.

Regulatory burdens
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) asked Dr. Price for his thoughts on what the government can do to address the regulatory burden that physicians are experiencing with electronic health record (EHR) requirements, such as Meaningful Use. Dr. Price said that EHRs are important from an innovative standpoint because they allow patients access to their medical history. However, he said that the federal government’s role is to ensure interoperability between EHR systems. Additionally, he indicated that the government should work more closely with providers in determining the metrics that should be measured through these systems to improve quality. “If we truly worked with the providers and asked them what we should measure, I suspect that there are some very specific things we could use.”

Government authority in health care
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) expressed his concerns about the increased authority of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). Dr. Price stated his concerns about CMMI, indicating that the patient should be at the center of care and that health care treatments should not be dictated by government.

Questions on ethics
Committee Ranking Member Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned the ethics of Dr. Price’s ties to a medical device company. Recently, information has been released about Dr. Price’s personal investments and potential ties to his legislative actions. According to House records, in 2016 Dr. Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares in Zimmer Biomet ― a knee and hip implant manufacturer. Shortly after the purchase, Dr. Price introduced the HIP Act that would have delayed a CMS regulation that would hurt Zimmer Biomet financially. Zimmer Biomet's PAC also donated to Dr. Price's reelection campaign.

When questioned at the hearing, Dr. Price indicated that the trade in Zimmer Biomet shares in his broker-direct account was handled by a broker and also denied knowledge of nonpublic information when trading certain stocks. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked, “Can you confirm that you have always followed the law relating to trading in stocks while serving as a member of Congress?” Dr. Price responded, “Everything that we have done has been above board, transparent, ethical, and legal. The Office of Government Ethics has looked at our holdings and given advice on what needs to be done in terms of divesting from certain stock holdings to make certain that there are no conflicts of interest. We have read those, agreed to those, and signed those. That document is online for everybody to see.” View Dr. Price’s public financial disclosure report and his ethics agreement.

The HELP Committee hearing is considered a courtesy hearing. A formal hearing before the Senate Finance Committee ― the committee that will vote on Dr. Price’s nomination ― is scheduled for Jan. 24.


Tentative hearing scheduled for Dr. Price nomination

Jan. 3, 2017
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has set a tentative date for a hearing for Rep. Tom Price, MD (R-Ga.) ― President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ― on Jan. 18. However, the hearing date will not be officially announced until one week before it is definitively scheduled to occur. This is would be a courtesy hearing, as it is the Senate Finance Committee that will ultimately vote on the nomination.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) has had a long-standing relationship with Dr. Price, who was a featured speaker at the AADA's 2012 Legislative Conference. The AADA has worked with him on issues such as Medicare payment reform, shortening EHR reporting periods, and ensuring that the MACRA transition included opportunities for physicians to avoid penalties.

Similarly, Seema Verma, President-elect Trump’s choice for CMS administrator, can anticipate a confirmation hearing in the near future. Although a date for her hearing has not been publicly floated, the Senate Finance Committee indicates that it has received three years of tax returns and completed questionnaires from both Dr. Price and Verma.


Congress appoints new E&C chair

Dec. 1, 2016
While President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is vetting members of the new Administration’s cabinet, on Capitol Hill, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has been selected as the chair of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over issues concerning health care, and is the primary committee for addressing the Affordable Care Act, the Medicare Access and Chip Reauthorization Act (MACRA), compounding, drug pricing, and the 21st Century Cures bill that, if passed, would provide medical research funding. Rep. Walden will replace Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who has served in the role since 2010. Rep. Walden is the outgoing National Republican Congressional Committee chairman. According to his congressional website, he is in favor of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and he also supported the 21st Century Cures Act.