HHS secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) avoided specifics on potential replacements for the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.
Price answered questions for nearly four hours, with some of the same tensions seen during a courtesy hearing last week before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Democratic senators asked about his financial stakes in healthcare companies and his ideas for repealing and replacing the ACA. As in the previous hearing, Price said everyone should have access to care, but did not say they should be guaranteed coverage.
Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, during his questioning time, asked Price whether it was true that “President Trump said he is working with you on a replacement plan for the ACA, which is nearly finished and will be revealed after your confirmation.”
“It's true that he said that, yes,” Price responded. The room laughed, and Price allowed himself a grin.
After developing budget-resolution legislation to begin repeal of the ACA in the first days of the new Congress and a broad, vague executive order from Trump hours after he was sworn in, many Republicans have called for a slowing of the process to make sure a replacement is ready before the ACA is repealed.
If confirmed, Price will be a key part of the repeal and replace conversation, but he maintained Tuesday that his previous stances as chairman of the House Budget Committee are not necessarily indicative of how the Trump administration will move forward.
Price, an orthopedic surgeon, would be the first HHS secretary with medical experience since the late 1990s. His nomination has been supported by several high-profile medical groups, but those groups have received criticism from many members who oppose Price.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked Price to commit to not using Trump's executive order to roll back the individual mandate and repeal the ACA without a replacement plan in place. Price mostly dodged the question, but when pressed, said repeal and replace should happen “simultaneously.”
Price mostly dodged questions aimed at pinning him down on maintaining ACA provisions like not allowing insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions and providing free preventive care.
He did say that preventive care is vital and that “nobody ought to lose coverage because of a bad diagnosis.”
When asked about the CMS Innovation Center, he said that it had gotten “off track” but could be a tool for improving healthcare with programs that do not mandate provider participation.
He later said that “for certain payment populations, bundled payments make a lot of sense.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) asked Price three times whether he was in favor of changing Medicaid into a state block-grant program, but Price refused to answer directly and said he would work with Congress.
Senators asked a few questions about news reports showing that Price had investments in multiple healthcare companies while dealing with legislation that would affect those companies and also pushed to delay the comprehensive joint replacement bundled-payment program, a delay that would have benefited a top donor of his—medical-device maker Zimmer Biomet.
Other Republicans came to Price's defense, saying he did not directly manage the investments and has been transparent about his dealings.