January 30, 2017
By Michael Flood*
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) and the Senate Finance Committee recently held hearings totaling eight hours to debate the confirmation of Dr. Tom Price, a six-term Republican congressman from Georgia, as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Dr. Price currently serves as the Chair of the House Budget Committee. He also is a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, which has jurisdiction over significant health care issues, including Medicare and Medicaid. Dr. Price has long been an active proponent of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and has repeatedly introduced the Empowering Patients First Act1 as an alternative to the ACA, which includes a tax credit and no minimum standard for benefits.
Dr. Price submitted materially identical written statements to both committees where he discussed how his background as an orthopedic surgeon and public servant would inform his role as HHS Secretary. Price wrote that “[i]f confirmed, my obligation will be to carry to the Department of Health and Human Services both an appreciation for bipartisan, team-driven policymaking and what has been a lifetime commitment to work to improve the health and well-being of the American people.”2 He also identified six principles of health care he is committed to pursuing--affordability, accessibility, quality, choices, innovation, and responsiveness3—with “access” being a clear focus of the proceedings.
As expected, the hearings before both committees struck a partisan tone. Republicans generally praised Dr. Price’s nomination, while Democrats questioned Dr. Price aggressively on his stances on Medicare, Medicaid, and ACA repeal. Both hearings included pointed questioning by Democrats of Dr. Price’s stock trades in health care companies while serving in Congress.
In the Senate HELP Committee hearing held on January 18, Senate Democrats questioned Dr. Price on President Trump’s statements that promised “insurance for everybody” as well as the President’s support for Medicare negotiations with drug companies to lower drug costs. Dr. Price emphasized the importance of ensuring access and responded to concerns about coverage by noting that no one would “fall through the cracks” without committing to a specific plan. Dr. Price also emphasized his view that states are best positioned to design their own Medicaid programs and praised the Medicaid expansion program in Indiana, which CMS Administrator-nominee Seema Verma helped design as a consultant and advisor to Vice President Mike Pence.
Similarly, in Dr. Price’s Senate Finance Committee hearing on January 24, Democrats aggressively questioned him on potential Medicaid reforms, including whether he supported turning Medicaid into a block grant program. Although Price did not provide a direct answer regarding block grants, he noted that Medicaid faces significant challenges such as one in three physicians not seeing Medicaid patients. Dr. Price also answered questions about the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation by expressing his opposition to broad programs that dictate how physicians and other providers practice medicine, while noting that he hoped to “move CMMI in a direction that makes sense for patients.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced on Sunday that the Committee will hold a vote on Dr. Price’s nomination on Tuesday, January 31, presumably clearing the way for his confirmation vote before the full Senate.
*We would like to thank to thank Michael Flood, JD (Polsinelli PC, Washington, DC) and Kara F. Morse, JD (Stoel Rives LLP, Seattle, WA) for respectively authoring and reviewing this email alert.
1 Empowering Patients First Act, H.R. 3400, 111th Cong. (2009); Empowering Patients First Act, H.R. 3000, 112th Cong. (2011); Empowering Patients First Act, H.R. 2300, 113th Cong. (2013); Empowering Patients First Act, H.R. 2300, 114th Cong. (2015).
2 See Statement of Congressman Tom Price, M.D. (GA-06) to the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions, available at http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Price.pdf; Statement of Congressman Tom Price, M.D. (GA-06) to the Senate Finance Committee, available at https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Price.SFC.Stmt.Final.pdf.