Health

Covered California chief stays hopeful about Trump's HHS pick

Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Cliff Owen/AP

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While Donald Trump's picks for the senior health positions in his administration indicate that he intends to follow through on his pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the head of Covered California is trying to stay positive about the future of the health law.

Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia), is an orthopedic surgeon and six-term congressman who has introduced several bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Price’s latest legislation, The Empowering Patients First Act, would do away with Obamacare and create incentives for people to contribute to health savings accounts, offer grants to states to subsidize insurance for "high-risk populations" and allow insurers to sell policies across state lines.

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said he’s met Price many times and is committed to finding common ground.
 
"He’s a physician, he cares about patients," he told KPCC. "He has a strong market bent, but as a doctor, I’m hopeful he’ll listen to the evidence" regarding the Affordable Care Act's benefits.

Lee is also trying to stay optimistic about Seema Verma, Trump’s choice to head the agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid.

Verma is known for her work in Indiana with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, whose gubernatorial administration required Medicaid recipients to pay premiums and track their compliance with healthy behaviors.

"She's known to be pretty conservative," Lee said, "but a pragmatist."

Lee said Covered California officials will be trying to meet with Verma and Price in the coming weeks to offer "a California perspective" on the Affordable Care Act.

Under the health law, about 5 million Californians have gotten health insurance, either through the expansion of Medicaid - Medi-Cal in the Golden State - or through subsidized private policies bought through the Covered California exchange.

Studies predict that the number of uninsured Californians will more than double if Obamacare is repealed. Researchers also estimate that California stands to lose more $15 billion annually that the state’s been getting for the Medi-Cal expansion and private insurance subsidies - more than any other state.