President Trump on Thursday nominated Indiana Health Commissioner Jerome M. Adams to become the next U.S. surgeon general, a move that would place Adams in the symbolically important post while the president’s bid to replace the Affordable Care Act tops his agenda.
Adams would succeed Vivek H. Murthy, who was appointed during the Obama administration and was fired in April.
If confirmed by the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, Adams would become another prominent health official from Vice President Pence’s home state to take a high-profile post in the Trump administration. Seema Verma, a former health policy consultant who crafted Indiana’s unusual Medicaid expansion rules, now heads the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
An anesthesiologist, Adams may be best known in recent years for responding to an HIV outbreak soon after he took his post in late 2014. The outbreak left 181 people infected in a sparsely populated rural Indiana county.
The outbreak in Scott County was traced largely to needle-sharing among people who were illegally injecting the prescription opioid Opana. Adams and Pence came to see the value of needle exchange programs in fighting the outbreak, despite a state ban on the practice.
The governor declared a public health emergency in March 2015 and dropped the prohibition temporarily. The ban was later ended, and other Indiana counties have adopted needle exchanges.
Adams tweeted Thursday that he was “truly honored” to be nominated for the post. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Adams would not be speaking to the media before his confirmation hearing.
The American Public Health Association said in a statement that Adams “has worked on the front lines of public health in Indiana, and his status as a working physician will serve him well in leading our nation’s health promotion and disease prevention efforts.”
Sometimes known as the “nation’s doctor,” the surgeon general has little power beyond the ability to call attention to serious public health problems and offer information and policy suggestions. He or she oversees the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, more than 6,600 uniformed public health-care personnel who work in various parts of the federal government.
Some surgeons general, like C. Everett Koop, who rallied the country against smoking and AIDS in the 1980s, became influential. Murthy produced a landmark report on drug and alcohol addiction in November that placed it alongside other public health crises of the past 50 years.
Adams would serve a four-year term if confirmed.
As part of efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump and the GOP are seeking to reverse the expansion of Medicaid, which Indiana adopted before the passage of the ACA and later continued after the passage of the law. The expansion extended coverage to many of the people in Scott County who otherwise would not have had it, according to a study published in July, 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Adams also worked to tamp down panic in the United States over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which Trump stoked with inaccurate tweets and demands to halt flights from the affected region to this country.
Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams has been holding the surgeon general’s post on an interim basis since Murthy’s departure.