Oct 2, 2017

Who will replace Tom Price?

Tom Price resigned as HHS secretary on Friday. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The hunt for a new Health and Human Services secretary is on, and so far the speculation is heavily focused around one name: Seema Verma. At least in these early days, many people in the health care world think the job is hers to lose.

However, the list of potential names is growing daily and we are tracking who's moving up and down the favs list.

Why Verma is a current favorite:

  • Verma is a close ally of Vice President Mike Pence. When Pence was governor of Indiana, Verma helped him design the waiver he used to accept the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion.
  • Her work with Pence and other red-state governors gave her experience pulling the ACA to the right — and with repeal-and-replace off the table, that's the best conservatives can hope for.
  • She was a fixture on Capitol Hill during the repeal-and-replace debate, trying to persuade wavering Republicans the various bills would be good for their states. It didn't work, obviously, but she gets more credit for her effort than Price did.

Yes, but: It's still incredibly early. Verma is the early front-runner, not a lock. The short list will likely grow. Other names we've already heard circulated include:

  • Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, is a reliable conservative with health care experience. He's also taken some aggressive public postures at the FDA on combatting the opioid epidemic and speeding the approvals of generic drugs, as a way to lower costs through more competition.
  • Bobby Jindal, former Louisiana governor, has been seen for a while as a potential HHS secretary in any Republican administration. But his statements about President Trump during last year's primary could doom him.
  • Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin is also in the mix, according to The New York Times, due to his experience overseeing the turnaround at the VA.
  • Another dark-horse candidate, per my colleague Jonathan Swan: Sen. John Barrasso, who is a doctor.
  • On "Fox News Sunday," Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham floated Sen. Ron Johnson as a potential HHS secretary.

Some cold water: There are big reasons to be skeptical about a couple of other names you might have seen in the mix:

  • Rep. Fred Upton used to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, so he knows health care, but diverting him to HHS would cost Republicans one of their strongest potential challengers to Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
  • A similar dynamic applies for Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who's a logical choice but is also said to be considering a run for Sen. Bob Corker's soon-to-be-former seat.
  • I've only heard people mention Dr. Oz as a joke. Calm down about that one.
  • Before anyone starts floating Sen. Bill Cassidy, remember that Louisiana's Democratic governor would get to appoint his replacement in the Senate.
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