President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday named Dr. David Shulkin, current undersecretary for health at the Veterans Affairs Department, as his nominee to run the VA.
In a wide-ranging press conference, his first since July, Trump also railed against pharmaceutical companies, saying they were “getting away with murder.” Those comments sent pharmaceutical and biotech stocks plummeting.
He later said a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would be offered “essentially simultaneously” with repeal of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law. He said it would happen when Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) is approved as HHS secretary. A confirmation hearing is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 18.
Trump said some of the “great hospitals of the world” are going to align with the VA. He named the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic and said they and a few more would set up “a group.”
“And we're going to straighten out the VA for our veterans,” he said. “I've been promising that for a long time and it's something I feel very, very strongly.”
Trump, through his transition team, recently suggested that veterans should have more choices when it comes to what providers they can see for their healthcare. During the elections, Trump described the VA as "the most corrupt agency" and "probably the most incompetently run agency."
Shulkin, a former president of the Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, was confirmed undersecretary for health in June 2015. He was No. 12 on Modern Healthcare's list of 50 most influential physician executives for 2016.
In a statement, Shulkin said he is confident Trump will give the VA the resources needed to improve health outcomes.
“We are both eager to begin reforming the areas in our Veterans Affairs system that need critical attention, and do it in a swift, thoughtful and responsible way,” he said.
The choice is likely to soothe some of the largest veterans organizations. They have praised steps taken by VA Secretary Bob McDonald and feared that other possible picks to head the agency might push for greater privatization.
Shulkin spent more than two decades in hospital management. He also served as president and CEO of the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and chief medical officer at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.
He is likely to embrace a more modest approach to changes at the VA, having expressed support for closer ties with the private sector but opposing full privatization as undesirable.
"We're pleased with this decision," said Joe Chenelly, national executive director of AMVETS. "We've been saying all along continuity is important at the VA, and Dr. Shulkin definitely understands the problems at the VA."
If confirmed by the Senate, Shulkin would lead the government's second-largest agency with nearly 370,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $167 billion.
During Shulkin's confirmation process in 2015, he said there should be a focus on creating seamless care between the VA, Defense Department and the private sector, and emphasized supporting a “culture of accountability.”
During his press conference Wednesday, Trump said the drug industry “has been disastrous” and new bidding procedures are needed. This signals support for allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, an issue Trump has recently backed away from endorsing.
“We're the largest buyer of drugs in the world and yet we don't bid properly, and we're going to start bidding and we're going to save billions of dollars over a period of time,” he said.
Drug companies have faced intense scrutiny over the high prices of certain drugs for rare diseases as well as increased prices on some generic drugs that have no competition.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.