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Rep. Price clear favorite for Trump's HHS chief

Rep. Tom Price has emerged as the clear front-runner to serve as Donald Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services, according to several Republican sources close to the transition team.

Price, a physician and an ardent opponent of Obamacare, would lead the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and potentially help Congress enact a new health plan. His selection would be a strong embrace of the House’s effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

The Georgia Republican, who leads the House Budget Committee, has been one of the GOP’s top voices on Obamacare repeal and other health care issues. He was one of the first Republicans to introduce an alternative to Obamacare when Democrats were debating health care reform in 2009 and 2010.

An early Trump supporter, Price and several other House committee chairmen endorsed the president-elect in May. Price also campaigned with Trump at an Obamacare repeal rally a week before the election.

“The things that we all believe about health care — we want a system that is affordable for everybody, that is accessible for everybody, that is of the highest quality and provides choices for patients — all of those things have been destroyed by Obamacare,” Price said at the rally. That is “why we need Donald Trump and Mike Pence to work with us and make sure we put in place a real health solution.”

Price was spotted at Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday, a day after POLITICO reported that he was in the running for the HHS job.

Given his connections to the House and friendship with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Price could be a key player in helping the House pass an Obamacare replacement plan. Price is also close with Vice President-elect Mike Pence; both are former chairs of the conservative House Republican Study Committee.

Several House Republicans were eager to see a colleague elevated to the president’s Cabinet. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, in an interview this week, said Price would be a “great choice” for HHS secretary.

“He knows the programs in and out,” Upton said. “He has wonderful respect here and that’s what you need. Particularly for someone who’s going to be president who has never been a legislator.”

Conservative health care experts also said Price would be right for the job.

“Not only is he a physician … he has a lot of experience in how to get legislation accomplished,” said Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, which strongly opposes Obamacare. “But he’s also incredibly articulate and passionate about patient-centered health reform from his own personal experience.”

Price’s health care plan has similarities to both the “Better Way” plan Ryan released this year, as well as the health plan Trump outlined during his campaign. All three support traditional Republican ideas, such as health savings accounts, high-risk insurance pools, and allowing interstate insurance sales.

Price’s bill is the only one of the three plans that has been put into legislative language and is the most detailed. For instance, Price’s plan would cap the tax exclusion on employer-provided insurance at $20,000 for family coverage, while Ryan’s agenda also calls for a cap but at an unspecified level.

However, Price’s plan is far less generous than Ryan’s on high-risk pools. Price would provide just $3 billion for states to cover some of their most vulnerable residents, compared to $25 billion in the Ryan plan.

As HHS secretary, Price would have opportunities to undermine Obamacare through the regulatory process, such as loosening restrictions for the states on Medicaid or not enforcing the individual mandate. Price and his team would have to decide how aggressively to peel back the health law through the regulatory process while Congress works on repeal legislation.

Price has been a leading voice on health IT issues in Congress, fighting for a more doctor-friendly version of the law that regulates use of electronic health records. Last year, he helped collect 116 House signatures supporting a slowdown in the process.

Arthur Allen, Brett Norman and Brianna Ehley contributed to this report.

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