White House physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson promised a Democratic lawmaker Tuesday that, if confirmed as the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, he plans to keep the department a public entity.
Speaking during a private meeting with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jackson reportedly committed to pushing against efforts to privatize veterans’ health care.
“He said all the right things, seems to have the same position on privatization that Shulkin had,” Tester told reporters.
Jackson, a long-serving White House physician, has maintained a relatively low profile since his nomination. Potential privatization will likely be a hot-button topic during Jackson’s impending confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for next week. Lawmakers across the aisle have expressed concern for Jackson’s lack of direct experience with the VA or managing an entire government agency.
Another Senate committee member, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), remains to be convinced that Jackson is the right man for the job.
“In our meeting today, I appreciated how strongly Dr. Jackson spoke against privatizing the VA, but I still need to know more about how he will stand up to ideological opponents of VA and remain fully committed to putting the needs of veterans first,” Murray said.
“The advocates within the administration for privatizing VA health services […] saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Shulkin wrote in a New York Times op-ed this March. “That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”
However, members of the administration flatly denied a hushed White House push for privatization.
“This administration has taken several unprecedented steps to transform and modernize the VA,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our work with Congress to reform and strengthen the VA Choice program to provide our veterans with more choice in their health care.”