BOSTON — A top Trump administration official from Colorado expressed confidence Tuesday that Congress will act to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, telling state lawmakers at a summit that “the status quo is unsustainable and unacceptable.”
Jane Norton, the former Colorado lieutenant governor who now serves as the director of intergovernmental affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pointed to rising costs for health care premiums, limited insurance options in rural counties and tax penalties as the primary problems with President Barack Obama’s federal health care law.
In an interview after her remarks at the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting in Boston, Norton said the Trump administration is “committed as ever to make sure we can repeal and replace.”
“Our senators and representatives are home now, and they are hearing from their constituents that we need to do something, that we have to have relief now,” she told The Denver Post in her first interview with Colorado media since taking her job. “I think we have to.”
The position serving under Secretary Tom Price makes her as one of the more prominent voices in the Trump administration on health care. And she faced tough questions from state lawmakers at the conference who are worried about how the decisions in Washington will affect state budgets and health care options.
In response to a question, she expressed support for involving Democratic lawmakers in the negotiations. “I think the bipartisan approach obviously is the strongest, most sustainable approach,” she said.
Norton served as the No. 2 for Gov. Bill Owens from 2003 to 2007, becoming the first Republican woman to hold that job. Earlier she served as a state lawmaker and led the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. She is married to former U.S. attorney Mike Norton.
Earlier this year, Trump allies in Colorado — whom she declined to name — called and asked if she would serve in the administration. She accepted the job but drew less notice compared to other prominent Colorado leaders who joined Trump’s team.
Norton said she admires what Trump is trying to do in Washington. “I think he’s courageous, in terms of shaking things up and doing things differently,” she said. “And I think he has commitment to improving our health care system.”
In President Ronald Reagan’s administration, she was appointed the Health and Human Services regional director in Denver. In her new job, she directs the work of all 10 regional offices.
Her appointment came under scrutiny from abortion rights organizations who expressed concern about her previous efforts to wage “a war on Planned Parenthood” and block the organization from receiving state tax dollars.
But Norton sees it as an opportunity to continue her work from Colorado, where as the public health agency director she saw “the issues around affordability of health insurance and accessibility.”
Norton lost a narrow — and bruising — Republican primary for U.S. Senate to Ken Buck, who later lost to Democrat Michael Bennet in 2010. She said she still thinks about her last run for elected office and joked that she’s grateful she didn’t win. “I think the good Lord was protecting me from my own wants,” she said.
But asked about another run for political office in Colorado, Norton said she has no interest. “Not a zip,” she said. “Zero, nada.”