Double Duty: FDA Head in the Running to Lead the HHS After Flightgate Scandal

Published: Oct 03, 2017

Double Duty: FDA Head in the Running to Lead the HHS After Flightgate Scandal October 3, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

WASHINGTON – Who will replace Tom Price as the secretary of Health and Human Services? Price, who was confirmed as HHS secretary in February, resigned last week following controversies over expensive travel costs using privately chartered flights.

According to reports, there are two leading candidates for the position—Scott Gottlieb, the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Seema Verma, the administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. While those two names are the front-runners for the position, other names have been floated as well, including former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, The Hill reported this morning.

In its analysis of names being floated for the cabinet-level position, The Hill said whichever candidate President Donald Trump chooses could signal his intentions on repealing and or replacing the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation. If Verma is selected, The Hill said that would likely signal “that Trump wants to keep up the intense battle against ObamaCare.” Verma, much like Price, has been a vocal opponent of the healthcare law. Verma is also a close ally of Vice President Mike Pence. While Pence was governor of Indiana, Verma worked with him to put a “conservative twist” on Indiana’s Medicaid program, The Hill said.

Jindal is also an opponent of the ACA and served in HHS under the administration of former President George W. Bush. However, Jindal and Trump do not have the best of personal relationships, which may hinder his nomination, The Hill pointed out.

Gottlieb, who was tapped to helm the FDA in March, would be considered a pragmatic choice, The Hill noted. It would likely signal that taking down ObamaCare would not be “front and center.” Since taking over at the FDA, Gottlieb has been a vocal proponent of speeding up the approval process for new drugs.

Gottlieb has also been transparent in much of the FDA’s work, regularly posting on Twitter what the agency is focusing its resources on. Since taking over at the FDA, Gottlieb has also been working to recruit top talent to fill a substantial number of vacant positions. Gottlieb said the FDA’s first order of business when it comes to hiring will be to fill positions that will support its PDUFA (Prescription Drug User Fee Act) commitments, which will mean quicker response to New Drug Applications.

Regardless of who Trump selects for HHS secretary, the nomination process will likely be a tough one. Democrats will likely fight tooth and nail to protect ObamaCare. Democratic lawmakers have planned to “seek commitments” from the HHS nominee on how they would carry out the tenets of the ACA, The Hill said. Lawmakers will also likely scrutinize any investments a nominee has that might suggest a conflict of interest, such as Price underwent.

The Hill said that Trump may not make any decision to quickly replace Price anytime soon. And if Trump nominates Gottlieb or Verma, then the president will have to make a decision about their replacement as well.

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