He continued, “So whether it’s a geographic area, such as 67 areas of our country that have to perform a certain procedure in a certain way, or whether 75 percent of the Medicare part D demonstration that dictates to providers what drugs they must use, that to me that is no longer a trial. I hope we can move CMMI in a direction that makes sense for patients.”
Later in the hearing, Senator Warren asked Price if he supported CMMI delivery system reform demonstrations, to which Price replied, “I support making certain that we deliver care in a cost effective manner, but not do things that harms the quality of care being provided.” Warner also asked Price about his position on bundled and episodic payment models. “For certain populations, bundled payments make a lot of sense,” Price said. Further, when asked if he would allow, as HHS Secretary, expansion of these models across the system, Price didn't address the question but replied, “What we ought to do is allow for all sorts of innovation, we ought to incentivize innovation.”
When Senators brought up the regulatory burdens facing rural and critical access hospitals, Price highlighted the role of health IT, specifically telemedicine. “There are areas from a technology standpoint where we are missing the boat, in rural areas and critical access hospitals. In every other industry out there, the information technology age has arrived and is moving with rapid speed and it seems in healthcare we have put roadblocks up with regard to the expansion of technology, and we need to incentivize that. It’s possible now, in my state, that if an individual is suspected of having a stroke they can go to a critical access hospital and, via telemedicine, providers can access specialists at the University Health Center. That’s improving the lives and care of patients across our state and there are so many things we can do to mirror that technological expansion.”
Senator Roberts also brought up health information technology as it relates to Meaningful Use and electronic health records and specifically asked Price how he will ensure, what Roberts referred to as, “an effective, but smarter and less burdensome rulemaking process.”
Price responded that physicians “are leaving the practice, not because they have grown tired of it but the onerous nature of the regulatory scheme coming out of Washington, D.C.” “Meaningful use has turned physicians into data entry clerks,” he said. Although Price did not specify how he would change Meaningful Use or offer any specific details about regulatory policies if he were to be confirmed as HHS Secretary.
Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) pointed out that as healthcare becomes more consumer-driven, there should be more focus on offering transparency on healthcare outcomes, and Price agreed, saying “Outcomes are important and measuring what makes sense from a quality standpoint, and transparency in pricing as well. Right now, we don’t have that, and if you want to know what healthcare costs, it’s hard to find that. We should be honest with ourselves as policymakers and make it patient friendly, we need to make that a priority,” he said.
But, before Price was questioned about healthcare policies, he faced rigorous ethics questions from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon regarding his investments in healthcare firms and his trading in health care stocks during his time in Congress. Among Price’s holdings are some in Innate Immunotherapeutics, Ltd., an Australian biomedical company in which another lawmaker, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) is a major shareholder. As Healthcare Informatics previously reported, according to Price’s financial disclosure statements, on Aug. 31 he bought between $50,001 and $100,000 worth of stock in the firm, as noted in an article in the online publication STAT.
Wyden said he saw a conflict and said Price understated the value of his investments in Innate Immunotherapeutics. “It is hard to see this as anything but a conflict of interest and an abuse of position,” Wyden said.
“Everything I did was ethical, above board, legal and transparent, and he reason you know about these things is because we made that information available in real time as required by the House ethics committee,” Price responded.
Sens. Ron Wyden and Patty Murray, the top Democrats on the Finance and HELP committees respectively, wrote a letter to Price, which was released Monday, requesting his brokerage and equity holdings agreements in order to review his investment decisions.
Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland reported last week, during a courtesy confirmation hearing taking place in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Democratic senators questioned Price about his investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics as well his purchase of shares in medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet last year. A CNN report last week noted that “Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, and “less than a week after the transaction,” Price introduced legislation “that would have delayed until 2018 a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.”
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