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Tom Price survives Senate committee’s scrutiny

Trump’s pick to lead the Health and Human Services Department carefully navigates questions about his record, Obamacare’s replacement

Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., right, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. talk on Capitol Hill in Washington. Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

Tom Price survives Senate committee’s scrutiny

WASHINGTON—Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., came into Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Finance Committee with a long list of questions to answer.

Late last night, committee staff members released a bipartisan memo to lawmakers highlighting several possible concerns about Price’s tax returns and financial disclosure statements. Democrats came ready to grill President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the $1.1 trillion Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the new findings, as well as his previous controversial opinions on how to change the U.S. healthcare system.

Despite the pressure, Price survived the meeting without adding more fuel to the fire.

Democrats pressed Price on how he will implement Trump’s executive order on Obamacare and what healthcare changes he will prioritize, if confirmed. While reaffirming his commitment to a smooth transition between the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and whatever replaces it, Price chose his words carefully to avoid controversy and remain in line with the president’s prior promises.

“I’ve been around here only 40 years, but I’ll tell you I’ve never had a witness for any position in government who has performed as well as you have,” committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Price in his closing statement.

Price answered many questions in a similar fashion, stating the future of healthcare should include access to high-quality coverage at an affordable price for every American.

“The ACA actually increased coverage in this country—it’s one of the things it actually did,” Price told the committee. “The problem is a lot of folks have coverage but they don’t have care.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., attacked Price from the beginning, asking him about the staff memo regarding his finances and how he reconciles his legislative proposals on Medicaid with what Trump has said on entitlement funding.

According to the memo, Price underreported the value of stocks he owns in Australian pharmaceutical company Innate Immunotherapeutics. In his financial disclosure to the committee, Price valued the stock between $50,000 and $100,000, but the memo said it was worth twice that amount.

Price said he thought the disclosure form wanted him to report the value of the stock at the time of purchase, not its peak value. He said he already submitted a correction.

While chairman of the House Budget Committee, Price’s most recent fiscal roadmap proposed about $1 trillion in cuts to the Medicaid system. Several Democrats pointed out Trump’s promise not to cut entitlements and asked Price if he would undermine Medicaid during his tenure at HHS.

Price would not directly say whether he supports reducing federal Medicaid dollars but said he will not support a system that would leave anyone “without the opportunity to gain coverage.”

When asked repeatedly about Medicaid recipients with disabilities, Price pledged everyone in that camp would have the same or better healthcare coverage as they do now.

That didn’t satisfy Wyden and his fellow Democrats. After the four-hour hearing ended, Wyden told reporters Price ducked too many questions.

But Hatch ardently defended Price’s performance and ideas about healthcare.

“If we keep going the way we’re going, there won’t be any healthcare for anybody,” Hatch said. “There are so many things wrong with the current system it’s just pathetic. It’s gradually eating up the whole doggone federal budget.”

Price said very little about what changes he will make at HHS regarding Trump’s executive order curbing Obamacare. Some pundits speculated the order would lead HHS to do away with the individual mandate, which would break federal law if Congress doesn’t change it.

Price said, if confirmed, he will investigate what changes HHS makes under the order but reiterated his commitment to following the law of the land.

Evan Wilt Evan is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD reporter.


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