With eye on Obamacare, Price takes helm as U.S. health secretary

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By Susan Cornwell

<span class="articleLocation”>Tom Price was sworn in as U.S. secretary of
health on Friday, putting in place a determined opponent of
Obamacare to help President Donald Trump dismantle his
predecessor’s law and reshape the nation’s healthcare system.

The Senate voted 52-47 earlier on Friday to approve the
conservative Georgia Republican, former U.S. lawmaker and
orthopedic surgeon to head the Department of Health and Human
Service (HHS), a massive department with an annual budget of
more than $1 trillion.

As the nation’s top healthcare official, Price now has the
authority to rewrite rules implementing the 2010 Affordable Care
Act, also known as Obamacare. Price could move quickly to rework
the law’s regulations while waiting for Republicans in Congress
to keep their pledge to scrap the law entirely.

Republicans, who have the majority in Congress, are trying
to craft a replacement for Obamacare but have not agreed on one.
Twenty million Americans gained health insurance under the law.

“Having Dr. Tom Price at the helm of HHS gives us a
committed ally in our work to repeal and replace Obamacare,”
said U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has vowed to pass a new
plan this year.

Trump signed an order on his first day in office directing
government agencies to freeze Obamacare regulations and take
other steps to weaken the law, a directive that will fall
largely on Price. But in a Fox News interview this month, he
said a replacement may not come until next year.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Friday said Price would
help Trump implement “a healthcare system that works for
everybody.”

Price’s nomination was dogged by questions about his trading
in hundreds of thousands of dollars in health company stocks
while working on healthcare legislation. Democrats boycotted the
committee vote on his nomination, saying he had made misleading
statements. Price has said his actions were legal and ethical.

A member of the House of Representatives since 2005 who
chaired the budget committee, Price wrote legislation to repeal
Obamacare and replace it with age-adjusted tax credits for the
purchase of health insurance.

Democrats criticized Price for his stock trading, opposition
to Obamacare, and his ideas about restructuring the Medicare
program for the elderly and disabled. They also rapped his
support for cutting federal funds to Planned Parenthood, an
organization that provides abortions and other affordable
healthcare and education services.

HHS oversees Medicare and Medicaid, the government health
insurance program for the poor. It also encompasses the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug
Administration.

With Price confirmed, the Senate moves next to consider
Trump’s U.S. Treasury secretary designate, Steven Mnuchin. A
vote on his nomination is expected on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Steve Holland in
Washington, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee)



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