Pence Makes Health Care Power Play

Vice President Mike Pence is exerting growing influence over the American health care system, overseeing the appointments of more than a half-dozen allies and former aides to positions driving the White House’s health agenda.

On Monday President Donald Trump nominated Alex Azar, a former Indianapolis-based drug executive and longtime Pence supporter as HHS secretary. If confirmed, Azar would join an Indiana brain trust that already includes CMS Administrator Seema Verma and Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Two of Verma’s top deputies — Medicaid director Brian Neale and deputy chief of staff Brady Brookes — are former Pence hands as well, as is HHS’ top spokesman, Matt Lloyd.

Yet another Pence ally — Indiana state Sen. Jim Merritt — is in the running to be White House drug czar.

Pence’s sway with the policymakers controlling Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid comes at a time when Trump and Congress continue to struggle with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But Pence and his cadre are driving a national agenda dominated by the kinds of conservative, anti-regulatory policies he embraced as Indiana governor.

“The vice president feels like these are some of the people responsible for the success of his state,” said Indiana Rep. Larry Bucshon. “I do think, behind the scenes, he has a lot of influence with the president.”

Pence has assumed a lead role on health with Trump’s blessing, Republicans who speak with the president and vice president emphasized. He remains one of Trump’s steadiest confidantes in a White House marked by intra-office power struggles, and established himself early on as a main envoy to congressional Republicans on Obamacare repeal.

“He really is the lead liaison between the White House and Congress in terms of legislation,” Sen. John Hoeven said. “Clearly he has a big part in trying to shape the policy.”