AT A SENATE HELP COMMITTEE HEARING

WASHINGTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) was light on specifics as to what he would favor in ACA replacement efforts, instead focused on broad goals for reform at a courtesy hearing Jan. 18 before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

Democratic senators on committee sought firm commitments on many issues – maintaining insurance coverage, women’s access to reproductive health care, coverage of mental health/substance use treatment, drug pricing, and reducing racial disparities – from Dr. Price, President-elect Trump’s nominee to lead the Health & Human Service department and a retired orthopedic surgeon. They also challenged Dr. Price on financial conflicts of interest related to legislation he supported.

For much of the courtesy hearing, Dr. Price reiterated his support for ensuring that Americans have access to their choice of health care coverage, without having that coverage dictated to them. Early in the hearing, however, when queried by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, regarding Mr. Trump’s recent statement that an ACA replacement plan would provide insurance for all, Dr. Price noted that has “always been my stated goal, it’s what we’ve worked on my entire public career.”

Dr. Price consistently avoided committing to specific policies, but insisted that “individuals [should] have the opportunity to gain access to the kind of coverage they desire.”

Senators specifically queried Dr. Price as to whether he would commit to maintaining copay-free insurance coverage of all 18 forms of birth control for women approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as mandated by the ACA.

“Every single American ought to have access to the coverage and care that they desire,” Dr. Price responded.

Similarly, regarding coverage of mental health and substance use disorders, Dr. Price called it an “absolutely an imperative” that “every single American” have access to the care for these health issues.

When pressed by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) to commit to ensuring that there would be no cuts to Medicaid funding for mental health care/substance use disorders, Dr. Price noted that “we will address that need.”

Senators also queried Dr. Price’s commitment to maintaining the HHS Office of Minority Health. Sen. Murray offered a number of statistics demonstrating how minority women in particular have benefited with coverage and access to health care under the ACA.

Dr. Price stopped well short of committing to keeping the office, but instead returned to his desire to pursue policies that ensure “every American has access to the care that they desire.”

Dr. Price did not commit to upholding Mr. Trump’s campaign promise that no dollars would be cut from Medicare; instead, he argued that money spent is the wrong metric to measure health care quality.

Regarding the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation, Dr. Price said that the center has “great promise,” but he “opposed the mandatory nature” of some of its programs, highlighting the comprehensive joint replacement bundle, which he said limits how orthopedic surgeons practice.

Senators also paid special attention to Dr. Price’s potential conflicts of interest. Several pointed to medical industry stock purchases that occurred around the time he introduced legislation that could benefit these companies, including a device manufacturer that would potentially benefit from Dr. Price’s challenging of the comprehensive joint replacement bundle and of pharmaceutical companies that might see benefit from the drug provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act .

He vehemently denied any wrongdoing, noting that he regularly and consistently disclosed all security holdings as required by congressional ethics rules and said he did nothing different from what many people in Congress currently do.

Despite his assurances that his ethics have not been compromised, Sen. Murray called for an ethics probe to address any potential conflicts of interest before his confirmation vote.

In closing the hearing, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) reiterated his plan for a phased timeline for ACA repeal and replacement, to be completed so that no one would lose coverage. He suggested that while legislative action could be swift, implementation could span years to minimize impact on insurance coverage and access to health care.

Dr. Price’s official confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled for Jan. 24.

gtwachtman@frontlinemedcom.com

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