Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., battled with senators Wednesday morning over his commitment, or lack thereof, to provide all Americans access to health care.
The hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee gave senators their first opportunity to question President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services. Price’s official confirmation hearing is next week before the Senate Finance Committee.
The most volatile exchange came when socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pointedly asked Price, a harsh critic of the Affordable Care Act, if he believes “that health care is a right of all Americans, whether they’re rich or they’re poor?”
“We’re a compassionate society,” Price began.
“No, we’re not a compassionate society,” Sanders quickly interrupted. “In terms of our relationship to poor and working people, our record is worse than virtually any other country on Earth. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any other major country on Earth, and half of our senior, older workers have nothing set aside for retirement.”
Sanders cited Canada as a model of guaranteed health coverage, but Price wasn’t biting. There are “consequences” to the system Canadians have, the nominee said, “just like there are consequences to the decisions we’ve made.
“I believe and I look forward to working with you to make certain that every single American has access to the highest quality care and coverage,” Price said.
“Access to does not mean they are guaranteed health care,” Sanders countered. “I have access to buying a $10 million home. I don’t have the money to do that.”
Price practiced as an orthopedic surgeon for nearly two decades before entering politics. He will play a central role in applying the administration’s replacement for the ACA.
At one point, Price said his goal is to have more people covered under a replacement program than are currently covered under the ACA.
Others on the panels honed in on Price’s legislative attempts to replace the ACA. While in the House, Price drafted several bills aimed at replacing the ACA with an approach that would redirect power from the federal government to the state and the private sector.
Democratic senators painted Price as bad for seniors, low-income Americans and women, citing the ACA protections that are not a part of his vision of health care.
The Price plan offers the same tax credit for someone making $20,000 as it does for another person who is a billionaire, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said.
“I am very frightened about what you are going to do, and so are millions of Americans,” Franken said.
Price responded calmly to each claim by stating his commitment to a larger health care plan “that would make sure no person falls through the cracks.”
Prodded by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Price said his ideas include things like expanded health safety accounts, high-risk pools and allowed association health plans. The latter idea would permit businesses to purchase insurance together.
“It’s not a new idea,” Price said. “The model for it is actually the Blue Shield plans that existed for decades.”
Several senators questioned recent news reports of Price trading in medical stocks from companies impacted by legislation he supported.
From 2012 to 2016, Price had traded more than $300,000 in shares in about 40 health, biomedical and pharmaceutical companies, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, while he was involved with legislation that might affect those firms’ stocks.
In addition, CNN reported Monday that Price bought shares of stock in Zimmer Biomet just prior to introducing legislation that would have helped the medical device manufacturer.
Price pointed out that the Office of Government Ethics reviewed his circumstances and that he will comply with all of their recommendations.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at email@example.com.
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