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Price Confirmed as HHS Secretary


Rep. Tom Price was confirmed by the Senate along party lines as the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Welcome to Practice Rounds, our weekly column exploring what's being covered in the larger world of healthcare.

Price the Next HHS Secretary

Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia-based congressman and orthopedic surgeon, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), overseeing a $1 trillion agency. The Senate voted along party lines to confirm Price, 52 to 47 at 2 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 10.  Price was sworn later that morning as the 23rd Secretary of HHS in history. He is the first physician to serve in the role since Louis Sullivan was HHS Secretary under George H.W Bush.

Price faced opposition from Democrats and some practitioners over his policies and his ethics.  Jane Zhu, an internist at the University of Pennsylvania Pearlman School of Medicine and founder of the Clinician Action Network, told Physicians Practice that Price's policies on reducing Medicaid funding, voting against the Children's Health Insurance Program consistently, and repealing the ACA are concerning. "Those types of policies are concerning to us because we have patients who rely on those programs for everyday care who are still struggling," she said. In terms of his ethics, many Democrats openly accused the Congressman of buying stocks in drug and device companies and then introducing legislation to help them.

Despite this opposition, Price's confirmation didn't hit any snags. He will lead the Trump administration's efforts to dismantle and replace the Affordable Care Act. While he has to wait on Congress to create and pass legislation to fully repeal and replace the law, he can start to rework the law to reduce enforcement of its policies until that happens.

A few healthcare provider groups have released statements congratulating Price on the confirmation. "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," the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society wrote in a statement.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) CEO Marilynn Tavenner said in a statement: “AHIP congratulates Dr. Price on his confirmation. We look forward to working with him and his staff to develop and implement consumer-focused, private-sector solutions that will make health care more affordable and accessible for every American.”

Physicians Practice will have more on this developing story.

Anthem-Cigna Deal Blocked

This week, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Anthem and Cigna's $48 billion proposed merger violated antitrust laws. Anthem appealed the ruling and is requesting an expedited hearing, according to Hartford Business. Anthem says if the ruling is upheld, Americans will be limited to access to high quality affordable care and will slow the insurer's shift to value-based care. Many healthcare stakeholder groups, such as the American Medical Association, praised the decision. "The AMA applauds the fact-based ruling by Judge Amy Berman Jackson, which stopped in its tracks the creation of an immense corporate entity that would have been too big to regulate with virtually unlimited power over the health care of millions of consumers," Andrew Gurman, physician and president of the AMA, said in a statement.

Quote of the Week:

10 Valentines to Send Your Payers

"Payer-provider relationships have historically been and will continue to be complex on many levels. Thus, either party may assume an adversarial posture whereby the perception is created that one party must lose for the other to win."

Tessie D. Quattlebaum, CEO of Quantrex Healthcare Business Consultants, Lilburn, Ga.

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