In an early morning vote, the U.S. Senate voted to approve the nomination of Tom Price as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to serve in the Administration of President Donald Trump.
Price, a Republican Congressman from Georgia and a former orthopedic surgeon, was confirmed in the Senate at 2 am Friday as the nation’s 23rd HHS Secretary in a vote that split along party lines. The vote was 52-47 with all Republicans voting to confirm, and all Democrats, and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, voting against confirmation. One Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO), didn’t vote.
Upon confirmation, Congressman Price resigned his seat as the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 6th Congressional District.
As previously reported by Healthcare Informatics, the party line split on Price’s nomination has made for a contentious nomination process. On Feb. 1, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee advanced Price’s nomination without committee Democrats present. The move to vote on Price’s nomination with just Republicans present goes against committee rules, which calls for 13 members—including at least one Democrat—to be present for the vote. Republicans voted to suspend the rule that had required at least one Democrat to be present for business to be conducted after Democrats on the committee boycotted the committee vote on Price’s nomination.
In a statement, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who voted in favor of Price’s confirmation, said, “As the former chairman of the House Budget Committee, Dr. Price has a thorough understanding of health care policy and the damage that Obamacare has caused. He can see the view from the doctor's office as well as from the lawmaker's office and will be an excellent partner as Congress works to rescue Americans trapped in the failing Obamacare system and to build better health care systems.”
Reaction from healthcare industry associations and health IT organizations have been mostly positive and supportive. In a statement, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) stated, “Dr. Price is uniquely aware of the healthcare challenges facing our nation. He has been an advocate for utilizing health IT to improve health outcomes for patients, while decreasing unnecessary burden on providers. HIMSS looks forward to working with Secretary Price to ensure we realize the full value of health IT in ensuring interoperability, improving care, increasing access, and driving better health outcomes to patients. HIMSS also recognizes the potential to explore the broadening of technology’s impact through expanded use of telehealth, increased cybersecurity preparedness, and implementation of 21st Century Cures,” HIMSS officials stated.
HIMSS officials also stated, “During our many engagements with Secretary Price at HIMSS Annual Conferences, our Government Health IT Conference, and as a congressional sponsor for the HIMSS Foundation’s Institute for e-Health Policy, we have found Secretary Price to be an advocate and an ally to those transforming healthcare.”
The Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) wrote of Price becoming HHS Secretary: “His experience as a thoughtful detailed-oriented legislator, combined with his decades working in the medical field make him uniquely qualified to confront the challenges facing patients, families and caregivers. …Further, we look forward to working with Secretary Price to make sure hospitals have the resources to provide essential health services in the communities we serve.”
The Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition of chief executives from healthcare industry sectors, applauded the Senate vote confirming Price and HLC president Mary R. Grealy said Price’s healthcare and policy expertise will be “an invaluable asset in improving population health, advancing high-quality care for all Americans.” “We view this as a vote for patients and for strengthening our nation’s healthcare system. Dr. Price brings to HHS the healthcare insights of a practicing physician and the policy knowledge he demonstrated as House Budget Committee chairman. These are assets that will enable him to begin work immediately enhancing the quality and accessibility of care for all Americans.”
She added, “Throughout his tenure in Congress, Dr. Price has been a champion for combating the rise in chronic disease, emphasizing wellness and prevention, expanding the use of health data to improve care, and strengthening the Medicare program for future generations of beneficiaries. We look forward to working with him on these priorities in his leadership at HHS,” Grealy stated.
However, there have also been some negative reactions to Price’s confirmation. President of the National Partnership for Women and Families, Debra Ness, described Price as “an extreme opponent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and federal funding for women’s health care.” “This vote may cost millions of women and families the access to essential health services they need,” Ness stated. Further, she stated, “Price’s opposition to the ACA, his willingness to cut Medicaid and Medicare, and his relentless opposition to abortion and contraceptive care are deeply disturbing. The ACA has been the greatest advance for women’s health in a generation; it provided coverage to 20 million previously uninsured people and millions with pre-existing conditions who could not get insurance before it became law. Yet Price voted more than 60 times to repeal it. The replacement proposals he supports are wholly inadequate and would leave millions without affordable, comprehensive health coverage.”
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