After a bruising confirmation process, the Senate confirmed Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to head up the Department of Health and Human Services, by a 52-to-47 vote.
As secretary, Price will have significant authority to rewrite the rules for the Affordable Care Act, some of which are reportedly nearly ready to be issued.
But there is much more now within Price’s purview, as head of an agency with a budget of more than $1 trillion for the current fiscal year. He can interpret laws in different ways than his predecessors and rewrite regulations and guidance, which is how many important policies are actually carried out.
“Virtually everything people do every day is impacted by the way the Department of Health and Human Services is run,” said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. HHS responsibilities include food and drug safety, biomedical research, disease prevention and control, as well as oversight over everything from medical laboratories to nursing homes.
Price, a Georgia physician who opposes the Affordable Care Act, abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood, among other things, could have a rapid impact without even a presidential order or an act of Congress.
Some advocates are excited by that possibility. “With Dr. Price taking the helm of American health policy, doctors and patients alike have sound reasons to hope for a welcome and long-overdue change,” Robert Moffit, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in a statement when Price’s nomination was announced.
Others are less enthusiastic. Asked about what policies Price might enact, Topher Spiro of the liberal Center for American Progress said at that time: “I don’t know if I want to brainstorm bad ideas for him to do.”
Here are five actions the new HHS secretary might take, according to advocates on both sides, that would disrupt health policies currently in force: