The Bush administration's appointment of a new senior healthcare policy ad-viser ushered in a new conductor, but the administration's healthcare policy train is still on the same track, Washington insiders said.
Roy Ramthun's recent appointment as special assistant to the president for economic policy, replacing Doug Badger, signals the administration's continuing commitment to consumer-directed healthcare and a crackdown on Medicaid abuse, several healthcare policy experts said.
A longtime fixture in the Washington health scene, Ramthun, 43, was previously the senior healthcare adviser at the U.S. Treasury Department and director of federal affairs at Humana, the Louisville, Ky.-based insurer. From 1990 to 1995, Ramthun was an aide to former Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) on the Senate Finance Committee, where he concentrated on Medicaid policy.
"Roy is the perfect trifecta," said Alec Vachon, president of Hamilton PPB, a Washington-based health consulting and lobbying firm who worked with Ramthun when both were on staff at the finance committee. "He has Hill experience, so he knows the players. He has private-sector experience, so he understands what makes a business work, and he's worked in the Bush administration, so he knows the people there."
At the Treasury, Ramthun helped design a tax credit that was enacted in the Trade Act of 2002, and several experts said that his experience will prove useful as the White House presses for tax credits to provide health insurance to those who do not have it. Under the Trade Act, workers who lost their jobs to foreign competition were eligible for a tax credit paying 65% of their healthcare premiums.
"The Trade Act was a trial run for this idea that you can use tax credits as a means of subsidizing premiums, and it couldn't have been done without" Ramthun, said Ed Howard, executive vice president of the Alliance for Health Reform, a health policy think tank.
Ramthun was a major advocate of health savings accounts while at the Treasury. Under HSAs, pretax money is put into accounts to be used for out-of-pocket medical expenses.
"He's definitely looking at tax policies that move away from group coverage to individual accounts. And that is the modus operandi of Republicans," said Chris Jennings, who held the post Ramthun now holds during the Clinton presidency. Jennings is president of Jennings Policy Strategies, a Washington-based consulting and lobbying firm.
While at the finance committee, Ramthun advocated a crackdown on schemes used by states to get more federal funding through the disproportionate-share program.
Badger, meanwhile, has been promoted to deputy assistant for legislative affairs for the White House. In his new position, he will lobby Congress on behalf of the administration on all policy issues, not just healthcare.
At deadline, the White House press office had not responded to a request to speak with Ramthun.