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WASHINGTON — There are so many unknowns about how President-elect Donald Trump will change health policy. But one early tell will be who he taps to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

A lot of names are floating around right now, and initial speculation can seem ill-conceived in hindsight; we never had HHS Secretary Tom Daschle under President Obama, after all.


Nevertheless, here are possible contenders for the most powerful position in health policy, according to early and often anonymously sourced reports.

Ben Carson

Trump praised the famed surgeon throughout the 2016 campaign, and his name is one of the most frequently mentioned in early reports.

Carson hasn’t said whether he’d take the HHS role, and he’d have no government experience to lean on.


His own health plan during his presidential campaign focused almost entirely on expanding access to health savings accounts. Carson has also, since Trump’s victory, urged Republicans to make sure they have a replacement plan ready before they repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Bobby Jindal

Jindal, the former Louisiana governor, has been a front-runner for a Republican administration cabinet post for years, and the Wall Street Journal reported that he is among the contenders Trump is considering.

He has administrative experience as a governor and spent time in the US House.

Jindal released his own health care plan to replace the ACA during his presidential campaign. It was designed to shift the conversation from one about coverage to one about costs, his former aides say. It also shared a lot in common with Trump’s stated agenda: shoring up high-risk pools, expanded health savings accounts, block-granting Medicaid.

Newt Gingrich

The former House speaker would bring a wealth of knowledge to the position, but it remains to be seen whether he winds up at HHS, or the State Department, or in some more amorphous advisory role.

Aside from ACA and Medicare reform, Gingrich has been an enthusiastic supporter of the National Institutes of Health since his days as speaker, and he called last year for doubling the NIH budget. He styles himself as something of a science nerd.

Gingrich has also been outspoken about the opioid crisis and he advocates for medication-assisted treatment.

Rich Bagger

Bagger has advised Trump’s transition team, and Politico calls him a “longer shot” to take over HHS. He worked under New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of Trump’s most loyal allies, and as a top executive at the drug companies Celgene and Pfizer.

Trump’s transition website says he wants to “reform the Food and Drug Administration, to put greater focus on the need of patients for new and innovative medical products,” an area where Bagger would be useful.

The pharma executive would also be an interesting choice given the concern among some in the industry about Trump’s unorthodox views on drug prices. The president-elect endorsed having Medicare negotiate directly the prices it pays for drugs, a policy vigorously opposed by drug makers.