House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., joined at left by Vice-Chairman Todd Rokita, R-Ind., presides over a markup session as the panel presses ahead with a 10-year balanced budget plan that cuts federal health care programs and agency budgets even though tea party conservatives are rebelling in a setback for Speaker Paul Ryan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2016.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Why Tom Price is a scary choice for Trump's HHS Secretary

— Updated
The reason there's so much interest in who Donald Trump will choose for various positions in his administration is a simple principle: personnel is policy. We want to know what the Trump/Pence administration will do once it's in power, so we keep an eye on his cabinet and White House selections to get a sense of the next White House's substantive agenda.

And when it comes to health care, the president-elect apparently intends to go in a very dangerous direction.

President-elect Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he will nominate Georgia Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Cabinet-level pick, which requires Senate confirmation, inserts one of Obamacare's most outspoken critics into the key position to dismantle it and help Republicans implement their own blueprint for health care reform.

I've been following Price's career for years, and it's hard to overstate just how conservative he is on, well, practically everything. The Georgia congressman, for example, is virulently anti-gay; during the BP oil spill, Price sided with the oil giant; and in 2011, he helped create Congress' Tea Party Caucus. (A year later, Price seemed confused about the meaning of the word "compromise.")

It was the same year Price considered running against John Boehner for the House Speaker's gavel -- because he considered the Ohio Republican insufficiently right-wing.

But Price, an orthopedic surgeon by trade, is primarily focused on health care -- which for the American mainstream, isn't good news. The Republican lawmakers has spent several years crusading to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and now Donald Trump is positioning Price to do exactly that.

Note, it was just a few years ago that many House Republicans endorsed the ACA provision that requires insurers to accept all applicants, regardless of pre-existing conditions. "It's a terrible idea," Price said at the time.

As the Huffington Post's Jonathan Cohn explained, Price did release his own ACA alternative -- which was never endorsed or embraced by his party's leaders -- which seems especially relevant now.

The "Empowering Patients First Act," as it is known, would gut Obamacare's regulation of insurance plans, reduce the total financial assistance going to people buying private coverage and rescind entirely the law's expansion of Medicaid for the poorest Americans.

Insurers could resume some of the practices that Obamacare now prohibits -- like selling bare-bones plans and, in some cases, denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Price's proposal would offer people tax credits, but there'd be no guarantee the credits could actually pay for comprehensive coverage.

The result, according to one analysis, would be less government spending and regulation -- as well as lower taxes on the rich. Many younger and healthier people would get access to cheaper insurance, particularly if they were comfortable with plans that had minimal coverage or gaps in benefits.

But a scheme like Price's would also mean fewer people covered and, almost certainly, less financial protection for people with the worst medical conditions.

What's more, note that Price recently said he expects Republicans to move forward with a proposal to privatize Medicare out of existence as early as next summer.

The fact that Trump chose this guy to lead the Department of Health and Human Services speaks volumes about the anti-healthcare agenda that the next administration will pursue.

Postscript: I've seen some reports refer to Price as a policy "wonk," especially on health care. I'd recommend caution on this front. A few years ago, the Georgia congressman mistakenly went after the ACA based on a Congressional Budget Office report he read but didn't understand.