US Senate votes to confirm Tom Price as health secretary

Representative Tom Price has been confirmed as the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Senate voted on Friday (Feb 10) to confirm Representative Tom Price as the top US healthcare official, putting a determined opponent of Obamacare in position to help President Donald Trump dismantle the healthcare law.

The Senate voted 52-47 to approve the conservative Georgia Republican and orthopedic surgeon as the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a massive department with an annual budget of more than US$1 trillion (S$1.4 trillion).

In his new job, Mr Price will have authority to rewrite rules implementing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is officially called. He could move quickly to rework Obamacare regulations while waiting for Republicans in Congress to keep their pledge to scrap the law entirely.

Republicans, who have the majority in Congress, are trying to craft a replacement for Obamacare but have not agreed on one. Twenty million Americans gained health insurance under the law.

Mr Price's nomination was dogged by questions about his trading in hundreds of thousands of dollars in health company stocks while working on healthcare legislation. Democrats boycotted the committee vote on his nomination, saying he had made misleading statements about shares he bought. Mr Price says his actions were legal and ethical.

A member of the House of Representatives since 2005 and currently chairman of the budget committee, Mr Price is the author of legislation to repeal Obamacare and replace it with age-adjusted tax credits for the purchase of health insurance.

Democrats criticised Mr Price for his stock trading as well as his opposition to Obamacare, his ideas about restructuring the Medicare program for the elderly, and his support for cutting federal funds to Planned Parenthood, a women's healthcare organization that provides abortions.

The Department of Health and Human Services oversees Medicare and Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor. It also encompasses the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

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