Trump Makes Picks to Head HHS and CMS

December 2, 2016

This week, President-elect Donald Trump announced his picks to head Health and Human Services and CMS. Plus, the 21st Century Cures Act passes the House.

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

Price, Serma Tapped to Head Healthcare for Trump

Tom Price, a Republican representative from Georgia who is also a former practicing orthopedic surgeon, was tapped by Donald Trump to head the Department Health and Human Services (HHS). Price is a six-term member of the U.S. House, serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and chairs its budget committee, according to Medical Economics. He has been an ardent opponent of the Affordable Care Act and will be put in charge of dismantling the law, while helping enact its replacement. Price has also spoke out against the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), although he did vote for it, according to Medical Economics. He was one of the earliest congressmen to support Trump, supports Medicaid reform, and supports privatizing Medicare, although has not unveiled specific plans to do so.

Trump also tapped Seema Verma, president and CEO of SVC Inc., an Indianapolis-based healthcare consulting company. Through her work at SVC, Verma helped shape various health policy in Indiana. According to Medical Economics, Verma is known as a Medicaid specialist who has introduced conservative ideals into state Medicaid programs and has close ties to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. In 2010, she led preparation in Indiana to implement the ACA in the state. 

21st Century Cures Act Passes

The House of Representatives passed a $6.3 billion bill this week that would aim to improve the speed and efficiency at which the FDA can approve drugs, Vox reports. The 21st Century Cures Act, which passed the House by a vote of 392-26, aims to modernize a "clunky" drug approval process. It also boosts funding for cancer research, handing out $1.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health for its "cancer moonshot" initiative. It also includes $1 billion in grants to fight the opioid crisis, $1.6 billion for research on Alzheimer's, and $1.4 billion in precision medicine research. The bill has met resistance by some, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, who says it's too heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, Vox reports. The bill moves to a vote in the Senate and then if it passes there, to the president's desk.

Zika Cases Plunge in Puerto Rico

The number of new Zika cases in Puerto Rico has significantly dropped in recent weeks, NPR reports. An expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told NPR that in August, the number of new cases per week was at about 2,000. Today, it's down to 200 per week. However, the agency says the impact from Zika could be long lasting. One reason why is Zika, which has infected more than 34,000 Since November 2015 in Puerto Rico alone, could have a damaging effect on pregnant women, say experts. More than 2,600 pregnant women in Puerto Rico tested positive for Zika and the CDC says they will keep their eye on those pregnancies.

Quote of the Week:

I Quit AMA Over Its Endorsement Of Trump's Health Secretary Pick

"Price’s positions are repugnant to me and every other physician that I know. As a primary care pediatrician, I understand how vital it is for families to have access to health insurance. Price has taken many stands which promote the wealth of specialty surgeons like himself, but are dangerous and harmful to patients."

Carolyn Sax, MD, a Hyde Park, Mass.-based pediatrician in an op-ed on WBUR.org about President-elect Trump's pick for HHS secretary, Rep. Tom Price