Tom Price, M.D., visits Indian Country. He goes to Alaska. He goes to Oklahoma. He says nice things. (He didn’t have the time to really translate that into policy or funding.) And now he’s gone after excessive use of government and chartered air craft.
Dr. Price was the Secretary of Health and Human Services from February 10 through September 29. That would be 231 days in office.
He visited with leaders of the Alaska Native Medical Center, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and the Pawnee Nation. In Anchorage he was quoted in The Alaska Dispatch News saying: “And so what I said to my team – I need to get out there and see what’s going on. And so this is part of that process to get there and see how they’re doing the kind of things they’re doing.” Then the Associated Press said the Secretary’s three-day trip was “part of the federal agency’s integral relationship with tribal governments … Price will also host a meeting of the Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee — the first such meeting ever held in Indian Country.”
He wrote about his visit: “What we saw there was remarkable: The Alaska Native Health Consortium has built a system that truly puts the patient at the center of everything. It meets patient’s needs holistically by integrating physical and mental healthcare, and incorporates Alaska Native traditions and spirituality. As I said on several occasions, I think there’s something the rest of America could learn from what Alaska Natives have built.”
Price promised to visit a “range” of tribal nations.
“Partnering to run tribal health systems is a solemn responsibility on the part of HHS, and it’s one that I take very seriously as Secretary and as a physician,” he said. “But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge the fact that, as a Government, we have not always performed as effectively as we should.”
And, there was a lot for the secretary to learn. Health care innovation that’s coming from Indian Country, the management of the Indian Health Service, dealing with opioid addiction, and of course, money.
Are we back to square one? A lot depends on the president’s next choice for HHS Secretary. The acting Secretary, Donald Wright, is a medical doctor with a background in public health. He’s worked at the agency for a decade and at one time was in charge of the Commissioned Officers Corps. He knows his way around the building and the issues.
Other potential candidates: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Seema Verma, former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, the Commissioner of the Federal Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, and Veterans Administration Secretary David Shulkin.
This report from Open Secrets looks at the financial interests of potential nominees.