Dems Use Trump’s Words To Slam Price’s Health Care Plans

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Republicans’ plans for repealing the Affordable Care Act quickly became a focus in the confirmation hearing for Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-GA). Price waffled when he was questioned on Trump’s comments earlier this month suggesting that the President was working on a replacement plan with the nominee.

“Is that true?” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) asked.

“It’s true that he said that, yes,” Price said. Brown followed up by asking if Trump was lying when he told the public he was working with Price.

“I have had conversations with the president about healthcare, yes,” Price said.

In his opening remarks, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, used Trump’s own words to attack Price’s proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“The Price plan takes America back to the dark days when health care worked only for the health and the wealthy,” Wyden said, according to his prepared opening remarks. “Congressman Price’s other proposals don’t offer much hope that the damage will be undone. By the Trump rubric of ‘insurance for everybody,’ ‘great health care … much less expensive and much better,’ the congressman’s plans get a failing grade.”

The Finance Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT), in his own opening remarks, offered a pre-buttal to this line of attack:

“I’ll simply say that virtually all the attempts I’ve witnessed to characterize Dr. Price’s views as being ‘outside of the mainstream’ have been absurd, unless of course, the only ideas that are in the ‘mainstream’ are those that endorse the status quo on health care and our entitlement programs,” Hatch said, according to his prepared remarks.

Watch a livestream of the hearing below and this page will be updated with the latest from Price’s testimony:

Update 1:48 p.m. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said it was “disingenuous” for Price to describe his role as HHS secretary to be mostly administrative. The comment came after Price dodged on a question about Medicare by saying he would administer whatever changes Congress passed.

“I’ve heard you at various times both here and before the [HELP] committee say that you’re going to have more of an administrative role, not a legislative role and I said to you privately, I think that’s a little disingenuous,” Menendez said. He pointed to comments Vice President Mike Pence made when Price’s nomination was announced about the role he’d play shaping the Obamacare repeal bill.

“Clearly they think, the President and the vice president, that you’re going to be playing a policy development role. Not just simply the administration of whatever the Congress decides,” Menendez said.

Update 1:34 p.m.: Price and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) sparred over the implications of Price’s previous proposals on Medicare and Medicaid.

Price rebuked her characterization that his Medicaid overhaul legislation would have converted the program to a private system with government subsidies.

“Well, we talked yesterday and kind of went through this in my office and by the end of our meeting, I’m going to quote you, that your plan for medicare, in terms of people getting tax credits or subsidies or however you’re going to pay for the Medicare recipients, would be them having choices on a private market and you said yes it was pretty similar to Obamacare with the exception of the mandate. Didn’t you say that to me yesterday?” McCaskill said.

Price argued that the lack of mandate was “fairly significant exception” and McCaskill countered seniors, because of their age, don’t need a mandate to incentivize them to getting insurance coverage.

McCaskill also brought up Medicaid, and Price refused to say whether he was in favor of block granting the program.

“I’m in favor of a system that is more in responsive to patients in the Medicaid system,” Price said.

Update 1:06 p.m.: Price said that it was “imperative” that the system of employer-based insurance was “preserved,” before hinting at changes to the system he proposed in previous legislation, which would have shifted consumers away from employer-based insurance.

“I think that preserving the employer system is imperative,” Price told Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). “That being said, I think that there may be ways in which individuals, employers – I’ve heard from employers who say if you just give me an opportunity to provide my employee the kind of resources so that he or she is able to select the coverage that they want, then that makes more sense to them and if that works from a voluntary standpoint for employers and for employees then it may be something to look at.”

Update 1:02 p.m.
: Price said that it was “imperative” that a replacement of Obamacare be “instituted simultaneously.”

The comment came as Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) quizzed Price on whether he would use the ACA executive order signed by Trump last week to undermine the implementation of its individual mandate.

Price said his first order of business if confirmed would be to gain “insight” from those in the “so that whatever decisions we can make with you and with governors and others can be the most informed and intelligent decision possible.”

Warner asked again if he would seek to eliminate the mandate before a replacement is in place.

“A replacement, a reform, an improvement of the program I believe is imperative to be instituted simultaneously or at a time,” Price said before being cut off.

“Our commitment is to carry out the law of the land,” he later added.

Update 12:34 p.m. Price was mum on where he stood on maintaining the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.

That decision whether or not to change that is a decision that you and every member of the committee and congress will be involve in and if I’m fortunate to be Health and Human Services [secretary] we’ll carry out the law that you pass,” Price said when questioned by Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO).

The issue was brought up again by Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV).

“Again, as I mentioned to – to a question on the other side I believe this is a policy question that needs to be worked out throughout the House and Senate,” Price said. “We look forward to working with you and others, if I’m able to be confirmed and making certain that individuals who are currently covered through medicaid expansion either retain that coverage or in some way have coverage through a different vehicle but every single individual ought to be able to have access to coverage.”

Update 12:03 p.m.: Price waffled on whether Trump was in fact working with him on a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) brought up that Trump said he was working on a replacement plan with Price and asked Price, “Is that true?”

“It’s true that he said that, yes,” Price said. Brown followed up by asking if Trump was lying when he told the public he was working with Price.

“I have had conversations with the president about healthcare, yes,” Price said.

Update 11:54 a.m.: Price was grilled on whether block granting Medicaid — which he has proposed in the past — would make it no longer a entitlement program.

“I think that it’s important to appreciate that no system that any — that the president has supported or that I have supported would leave anybody without the opportunity to gain coverage,” Price told Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who asked whether block granting Medicaid risked denying coverage to enrollees who were previously eligible.

Menendez pressed again, and Price confirmed that Medicaid as it exists today, “is an entitlement program” and that those who meet its criteria are entitled to its services.

“If one is eligible, meaning you have a right. When you move to a block grant, do you still have the right? No,” Menendez said.

“I think it would be determined how that was set up if in fact that was what Congress did,” Price said. “Again the role of Department of Health and Human Services is to administer the laws that you pass not to make the law.”

Update 11:23 a.m.: Price threw some shade on Talking Points Memo when Sen. Bill Nelson raised a 2012 story by TPM, as well as one by Politico, where Price said it was a “terrible idea” for Obamacare to ban insurers from discriminating consumers on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

“Oh, well, now there’s a reliable source,” Price said after denying he made the statement, when Nelson said the quote was in a TPM story.

The TPM story surfaced the quote from a Politico report and then included a comment from a Price aide that added context to Price’s comment.

Update 11:13 a.m.: Price refused to make any concrete guarantees on coverage levels or timing when needled by Wyden about the Trump administration’s Obamacare plans and specifically about an executive order Trump signed last week.

“What I commit to, Senator, is working with you and every single member of congress to make certain we have the highest quality health care and that every single American has access to affordable coverage,” Price said, he said when asked if anyone will lose coverage if the order is implemented.

“I guarantee you that the individuals that lost coverage under the Affordable Care Act we will commit to making certain they don’t lose coverage under whatever replacement plan comes forward,” he added, when Wyden posed the question again. He also dodged a question from Wyden on whether the order would be implemented before an ACA alternative is in place.

Update 10:28 a.m.: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking member of the committee, used Trump’s own words to attack Price’s proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“The Price plan takes America back to the darks when health care worked only for the health and the wealthy,” Wyden said, according to his prepared opening remarks. “Congressman Price’s other proposals don’t offer much hope that the damage will be undone. By the Trump rubric of ‘insurance for everybody,’ ‘great health care … much less expensive and much better,’ the congressman’s plans get a failing grade.”

Update 10:22 a.m.: Finance Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) used much of his opening remarks to criticize Democrats for their tactics opposing Trump’s nominees in general, while arguing their concerns about Price were “specious and distorted attacks.”

He also laid down a marker on repealing the Affordable Care Act, and criticisms of Price’s views there.

“I’ll simply say that virtually all the attempts I’ve witnessed to characterize Dr. Price’s views as being ‘outside of the mainstream’ have been absurd, unless of course, the only ideas that are in the ‘mainstream’ are those that endorse the status quo on health care and our entitlement programs,” Hatch said, according to his prepared remarks.

Original post:

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) will be grilled a second time — this time, in front of the Senate Finance Committee — as part of his confirmation to be President Trump’s Secretary of Health Human Service. At a courtesy hearing last week in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Dems jabbed him on whether he agreed with Trump on Medicare drug negotiations or protecting Medicaid from cuts. Senate Finance is the committee that will actually vote on Price’s nomination, and Democrats are expected to keep the pressure on in Tuesday’s questions there as well.

Much attention has been paid to allegations that Price engaged in sketchy stock trades while a congressman related to policy matters he had sway over. However the Trump administration’s plans for repealing Obamacare has also been a lingering question, particularly after President Trump on Friday evening signed a vague executive order directing federal agencies, including the HHS, to “to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” of the law. As a legislator, Price has proposed multiple versions of a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. At last week’s HELP committee hearing, he sought to paint himself as an administrator, rather than a legislator.

Expect Price’s hard line positions on Medicaid and Medicare to come up on Tuesday as well. Just before he was named as Trump’s HHS pick, he signaled his desire to privatize Medicare in the months to come, and he has also been a vocal proponent of block granting Medicaid, another priority of the Trump administration.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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