The opportunity in Tom Price’s resignation

Then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 15. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

TOM PRICE’S resignation as health and human services secretary Friday ended an inglorious and brief tenure. Though his arrogant waste of taxpayer money on chartered plane trips brought him down, his more serious failure was in policy — and belongs to the entire Trump administration. Shortly before Mr. Price resigned, President Trump raised the possibility of striking a deal with Democrats to fix the health-care system. Mr. Price, a hard-charging partisan Republican, would no doubt have been a roadblock. Mr. Trump should find someone less motivated by ideology, shift gears and work to actually improve health care for all Americans.

Mr. Price was a leading voice for pulling apart Obamacare using partisan tactics in Congress and sabotage in the executive branch. Instead of encouraging people to sign up for coverage, Mr. Price used public money to pummel Obamacare, often blaming the law for problems the Trump administration itself created or exacerbated. His relentlessly negative message frequently drifted into nonsense. He insisted that Republicans were not cutting Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor and near-poor, when the House had just passed a bill containing a massive Medicaid cut. He claimed that the GOP’s American Health Care Act would result in more people getting better coverage, when the Congressional Budget Office found that 24 million more would go uninsured — a report Mr. Price called “not believable” even as he admitted he had not read it. He insisted that Obamacare’s requirement that all Americans obtain health coverage raised health-care costs, when the opposite is true.

Statements such as these were unbecoming to the country’s health-care policy chief, and they shredded whatever credibility he brought to the office. They also heightened the uncertainty that has upset the insurance markets on which millions rely for coverage. Having to worry about whether the administration might stop enforcing the individual mandate, for example, did not encourage insurers weighing whether to continue serving customers.

There were other, less visible problems. Mr. Price’s HHS recently slashed outreach efforts encouraging people to sign up for health insurance and warned that might be down for maintenance at crucial times during Obamacare open enrollment. Both are major issues because Mr. Price cut in half the open enrollment period. He also rolled back important initiatives to drive down wasteful Medicare spending.

Mr. Trump has said more than his share of nonsensical things about health care, and the president has repeatedly threatened to crash Obamacare markets himself. But this has brought him to a political as well as a policy dead end. He should appoint someone willing to take a different approach.

Bipartisan negotiators in the Senate are talking once again about a compromise that would stabilize health insurance markets while giving states some additional flexibility. They could have a bill ready as soon as this week. But it will go nowhere if Republican leaders refuse to consider it. Mr. Price would have been an obstacle. Mr. Trump suddenly has a new opportunity for a win on health care. He should take full advantage.


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