Policy

Price will defer to physicians, says ex-AMA lobbyist who’s known him since ’94

“He will first and foremost look at how public policy will affect the practice of medicine,” said Julius W. Hobson, a former American Medical Association lobbyist who has known Price since 1994.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) speaks at the Brookings Institution November 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Rep. Price to become the next Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Tom Price

There are plenty of unknowns about newly installed Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price, but two things are pretty clear: He knows the intricacies of the healthcare industry and he is deferential to the role of physicians.

Friday, Price became the 23rd HHS secretary after the Senate confirmed his nomination in the wee hours by a 52-47 vote that broke strictly along party lines. An orthopedic surgeon who previously represented suburban Atlanta in Congress, Price is the first physician to head HHS since Dr. Louis Sullivan in 1989-93.

“It’s significant that he’s a physician,” said Julius W. Hobson, a senior policy advisor in the Washington office of law firm Polsinelli. “They have different viewpoints” than other bureaucrats, said Hobson, a former American Medical Association lobbyist who has known Price since 1994.

“He, [Steven] Mnuchin at Treasury and [James] Mattis at Defense are probably the cream of the crop in this administration in terms of experience and knowledge,” Hobson said.

Hobson noted that Price has long been involved in organized medicine, via the AMA, the Medical Association of Georgia and, yes, the controversial Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. “Even in the House, he was active in the AMA,” Hobson noted.

In shaping healthcare policy, Price always has physician interests in mind. “He will first and foremost look at how public policy will affect the practice of medicine,” according to Hobson.

The new HHS secretary served 12 years and 1 month in Congress. Prior to that, he was a member of the Georgia State Senate for 8 years. His lawmaking career started in 1997, the same year the Balanced Budget Act brought about the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate formula that physicians generally despised. (The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 did away with the SGR.)

With the SGR came the nearly annual “doc fix” bills that blocked planned cuts to Medicare physician reimbursement, usually at the last minute. “Tom was always active in that process,” Hobson said.

Though Price is a staunch conservative, Hobson expects the newly installed secretary to follow a measured repeal-and-replace course rather than push for the quick undoing of the Affordable Care Act that some right-wingers want. After all, it is Price’s job now to to represent the healthcare interests of the Trump administration.

Price certainly toes the Republican Party line on opposing the ACA, but he differs from the GOP rank and file in that he actually has been touting a concrete alternative to Obamacare since 2009. “He will be the lead” on repeal-and-replace,” Hobson said.

That likely means a measured approach. “You don’t just turn the spigot and make it go away overnight,” according to Hobson.

Price’s first priority, however, is to get his team in place, according to Hobson. Seema Verma, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will face the Senate Finance Committee Thursday, and National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins is the lone HHS leadership holdover from the Obama administration.

But Trump still must nominate a deputy HHS secretary, seven assistant secretaries and leaders for other key agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration.

If Price has any input on those choices, look for one thing: “He is always concerned about the regulatory burden” on healthcare organizations and companies,” Hobson said.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images