By Steve Holland
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump named a vociferous critic of Obamacare and a policy consultant on Tuesday to help him overhaul the healthcare system that Republicans have targeted since Democrats enacted sweeping reforms in 2010.
Republican Representative Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, will be Trump's Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, and consultant Seema Verma will lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a powerful agency that oversees government health programs and insurance standards.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, arriving at Trump Tower in New York, promised a "busy day" as the team continues filling key positions. The president-elect planned to announce his pick for transportation secretary, Trump spokesman Jason Miller told Fox News.
Trump, a Republican, cast Price and Verma as a "dream team" to help him once he takes office on Jan. 20 with his campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare, Democratic President Barack Obama's signature health law formally known as the Affordable Care Act.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer denounced the choice of Price, calling him "far out of the mainstream" in his stance on government efforts such as Obamacare and Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly and disabled, and on Planned Parenthood, a women's health organization.
"Nominating Congressman Price to be the HHS secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house," Schumer said.
Trump, in a statement, called Price "exceptionally qualified" to help replace Obamacare. Price said there was much work to be done "to ensure we have a healthcare system that works for patients, families, and doctors."
The 2010 healthcare overhaul, aimed at expanding insurance coverage to millions more Americans, triggered a long and bitter fight between the White House and congressional Republicans, who said it created unwarranted government intervention in personal healthcare and private industry.
Trump has said he will replace Obamacare with a plan to give states more control over the Medicaid health plan for the poor and allow insurers to sell plans nationally.
Both Price and Verma will need Senate confirmation in their positions, and the Trump administration will need congressional approval to repeal and change the health law.
Verma worked with Pence, the Indiana governor, on a plan to expand Medicaid coverage for the state's poor with federal funding.
The Indiana program requires beneficiaries to make monthly contributions to health savings accounts. Verma told the Times of Indiana earlier this year Pence fought for the "personal responsibility" aspect of the program.
Price, an early Trump supporter in the U.S. House of Representatives, leads the budget committee and has long championed a plan of tax credits, expanded health savings accounts and lawsuit reforms to replace Obamacare.
Obama has acknowledged the law could use improvements but has credited Obamacare with cutting the number of uninsured Americans from 49 million in 2010 to 29 million in 2015. Much of that drop is due to the law's provision allowing states to expand Medicaid.
Trump's position on the issue appeared to soften after he met with Obama following the Nov. 8 election. Trump said he would consider keeping provisions in the law that let parents keep adult children up to age 26 on insurance policies and bar insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has touted House Republicans' plan to replace Obamacare, praised the selection of Price, saying: "We could not ask for a better partner to work with Congress to fix our nation's health care challenges."
MORE CABINET PICKS
Trump's work to fill his administration comes alongside a series of controversial tweets targeting efforts to recount the presidential vote and, on Tuesday, calling for burning the U.S. flag to be a crime. The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning is protected speech under the First Amendment.
Trump has met with about 70 people as he looks to shape his White House and Cabinet team. He is still considering options for three major positions - the secretaries of state, defense and Treasury.
Trump saw retired General David Petraeus, a potential candidate for the State Department or the Pentagon, on Monday. On Tuesday, he is expected to meet with U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later have dinner with Mitt Romney.
Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, and Corker are in the running for secretary of state, along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Trump was also set to launch a "thank you tour" to states he won in the election, starting with a rally Thursday in Cincinnati, aides said.