Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was questioned about his position on the Trump Administration's plans to repeal and place the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during his second confirmation hearing, held by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
The Senate Finance committee will vote on advancing his nomination to the full Senate.
During the four-hour hearing, senators questioned Price about his positions on the future of the ACA, the scope of Medicare and Medicaid and the Trump’s Administrations plan to repeal and replace the ACA. In response to a question about what his goals for an Obamacare replacement plan, Price did not offer specifics but only said, “It’s imperative that we have a system that is accessible for every American, affordable for every American and incentivizes high quality healthcare and provides choices; it’s complicated to do.”
President Trump on Jan. 20 signed an executive order that could open the door for federal agencies to curtail some aspects of the ACA, and in particular, the order aims to reverse "unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens" resulting from the ACA.
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) asked Price, “If you’re confirmed in this position, will you use this executive order in any way to try to cut back on implementation or following the individual mandate before there is a replacement plan in place?”
“If confirmed, I’m humble enough to know I don’t have the all the answers. The talented people at the Department have incredible knowledge and an expertise and my first action is to gain that insight and information so that whatever decisions we make with you and governors and others can be the most informed and intelligent as possible,” Price said.
Warner continued “One of the reasons so many of us are anxious to see your replacement plan is that the President [Trump] says he wants to have insurance for everybody and he wants to keep the prohibition on pre-existing conditions and keep people on policies until 26 and it seems there is, at the same time, a rush to eliminate all the things that pay for the ability for Americans to have those services. I want assurances that you wouldn’t use this executive order prior to a legal replacement to eliminate the individual mandate, which I would believe helps to shore up the cost coverage and the shifting of cost that is required in an insurance system.”
Price replied, “Any replacement or reform or improvement of the program is imperative to be instituted simultaneously.”
Price also was questioned about his current involvement with the Trump administration’s plans to repeal and replace the ACA. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), said, “President Trump said he’s working with you on a replacement plan for the ACA, which is nearly finished and will be revealed after your confirmation. Is that true?”
“It’s true that he said that, yes,” Price said. And, he added, “I’ve had conversations with the president about health care, yes.”
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) asserted that even if Congress does nothing to repeal or amend the ACA, “the law is not working and the market is collapsing.” “When your confirmed, what tools will you have that can be utilized to provide stability and improve the individual insurance markets so insurance carriers will want to come back during this transition?,” he asked Price.
Price said, “We need to reconstitute the individual and small group market and provide stability in our conversation and our tone. We need to lower the temperature in this debate and say to those providing insurance products, we hear your challenges. They are exiting the market, but there is help on the way to allow us to reconstitute the individual and small group market, so people can gain coverage they want and purchase at a reasonable amount.”
Before he was questioned by Senators, Price, an orthopedic surgeon and Georgia Republican Congressman, discussed his experience as a practicing physician and said, “Our healthcare system is losing focus on our number one priority – the patient.” Price also outlined the six pillars of what he thinks make up an effective healthcare system: affordability; accessibility; quality; innovation; responsibility; and choices.
“Across the spectrum of issues the department [HHS] handles, we have to strengthen our resolve to keep our promise to those most in need of care and support and that means saving, strengthening and securing Medicare and that means ensuring the Medicaid population has access to quality of care and we need to expand our leading role in medical innovation,” Price said.
Senators questioned Price on his view of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), as the center has been questioned in the past by House Republicans, including Price, for overstepping its definition in statutes. The CMMI was established as an added section under ACA. Price said that CMMI has “gotten off track."
“Innovation is so incredibly important to healthcare…innovation is in fact what leads quality healthcare and expands the ability of healthcare professionals to be able to treat patients. I’m a strong supporter of innovation and we need to incentivize innovation. CMMI is a vehicle that might do just that, however, it’s gotten off track into defined areas where it is mandatorially dictating to providers how they must practice.”
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