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BREAKING: Trump Taps Tom Price, Seema Verma to Head HHS, CMS

November 29, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The President-elect has formed his “dream team” to repeal the Affordable Care Act with two experienced healthcare policy candidates. But questions remain about what impact the new Administration will have on health IT’s future

President-elect Donald Trump is set to name Tom Price, M.D. (R-GA) as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, and Seema Verma as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator.

Price, 62, a retired orthopedic surgeon, emerged as a frontrunner for HHS Secretary after reports surfaced on Nov. 16 that the Georgia Republican Representative was at the Trump Tower in New York City. Price, an early Trump supporter, has been a leading GOP voice against Obamacare, which the President-elect has promised to “repeal and replace.” To this end, Trump has also named Seema Verma, 46, current president, CEO and founder of SVC, Inc., a national health policy consulting company, as CMS’ new chief. According to a Reuters report, “Trump cast Price and Verma as a ‘dream team’ to help him once he takes office on Jan. 20 with his campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare.”

The health IT industry is more likely to be familiar with Price than Verma, as the former has been active in pressing the Administration and its colleagues to provide more regulatory relief for physicians. Price is a chairman on a Congressional health subcommittee, the Committee on Ways and Means, through which he has previously voiced concerns about the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). He also has advocated for shorter Meaningful Use reporting periods and more flexibility in terms of applying for MU hardship exemptions. It should also be noted, however, that Price did vote in favor of MACRA.

When the MACRA final rule was released in October, Price released a statement that read, "We are deeply concerned about how this rule could affect the patient-doctor relationship, and I look forward to carefully reviewing it in the coming days to determine whether the Administration has addressed those concerns and put the interests of patients first.” In the days leading up to the release of the MACRA final rule, Price and other members of the House Congressional Doctors Caucus sent a letter to CMS urging the agency to carefully address a number of multi-layered, high-level concerns that physicians will face on January 1, 2017 under the new payment system established under MACRA.

What’s more, in September, Price and nearly 200 other federal lawmakers wrote a letter to CMS calling out the Obamacare-created Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) for overstepping its authority by proposing mandatory healthcare payment and service delivery models. The letter, which was signed by 179 members of Congress, stated that three recently proposed mandatory models [including the agency’s Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) bundled payment model for hip and knee replacements] demonstrate that CMMI has “exceeded its authority, failed to engage stakeholders and has upset the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches.”

Currently, HHS is led by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was sworn in as the 22nd Secretary of Health & Human Services on June 9, 2014. As the Secretary of HHS, Burwell oversees more than 77,000 employees, and has worked closely with other federal agencies within it, such as CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) on healthcare reform, including leading national health IT efforts.

When reached for comment about the selection of Price for HHS Secretary, Jeffrey Smith, vice president of public policy at the American Medical Informatics Associations (AMIA) noted his insight and knowledge of health IT and healthcare policy. “Price and his staff demonstrated a strong grasp of the issues impacting clinicians participating in the EHR Incentive Program,” Smith said in an emailed response. He added, “I suspect Rep. Price will make good on his reputation as a policy wonk and work to understand the enormous complexities of our healthcare system.  And as a physician, he may be willing to re-examine ways to push value-based care without some of the bureaucracy, such as our onerous clinical documentation system and our complex electronic quality measurement paradigm.”

Meanwhile, Verma is set to take over for current CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt, who joined CMS on July 8, 2014 as Principal Deputy Administrator. Verma “worked with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, on a compromise to expand Medicaid coverage for the state's poor with federal funding. The Indiana program requires beneficiaries to make monthly contributions to health savings accounts,” according to Reuters.

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