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Today U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R – Ga.) faced a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to determine his qualification to become Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Next week, on January 24th, he will face an additional hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, which will vote on his nomination.

Rep. Price is on record supporting repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), block-granting Medicaid, and turning Medicare into a voucher program, which would terminate coverage for millions and raise out-of-pocket costs for millions more.  At today’s hearing, however, he was asked about his goals regarding a replacement for the ACA, and he replied that he would like to decrease out-of-pocket costs, increase choice, increase access to doctors/providers, increase the number of people with insurance with the overarching goal of making sure every American has access to insurance.  It is difficult to see how his previously stated policy positions would foster the goals he set out in today’s hearing.  Further, as pointed out by Senators Sanders and Murphy, “access” and “coverage” are not the same. 

When asked questions specifically about Medicare, Rep. Price refused to directly answer:

  • Whether he would support the re-opening of the Part D Donut Hole (through repeal of the ACA, which closes the Donut Hole by 2020);
  • Whether he would support drug price negotiation by the Medicare program (as has been advocated by President-elect Trump); and
  • Whether he would support statements by President-elect Trump not to cut Medicare and Medicaid or raise the age of Medicare eligibility.

Before taking control of the federal agency that oversees health care for millions of people, including over 55 million people with Medicare, the public still needs answers to the following questions from Rep. Price:

  1. You are on record supporting turning Medicare into a “premium support” or voucher program, with the intent to reduce program spending. Can you guarantee that vouchers would not lead to reductions in coverage and increases in out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries?
  2. You are on record supporting allowing physicians to “balance bill” Medicare beneficiaries (charge more than they can now). Doesn’t this position place physicians’ profit over patients’ ability to afford health care?
  3. You are on record opposing allowing the Medicare program to negotiate prescription drug prices. Do you believe that drug prices today are reasonable, and that Medicare beneficiaries should pay whatever the market will bear?
  4. You are on record supporting raising the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67. Do you know how many people would be impacted by making such a dramatic change? If ACA is repealed, how would people in this cohort get health insurance?

“While Rep. Price stated that all people should have access to insurance, he did not offer a plan that would ensure universal access to care. He recognizes that access to care is what people want and need, yet he offers a vision that would return people with pre-existing conditions to ‘High Risk Pools.’ High Risk Pools for people with pre-existing conditions are akin to Poor Houses for the poor. This would be a major step back for millions of Americans who finally have equal access to coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Access to insurance is not the same as access to care,” said CMA Executive Director Judith Stein.

“Further,” Ms. Stein continued, “make no mistake, Medicare and Medicare benefits will be diminished by this rush to fully repeal of Obamacare. Medicare solvency is at risk and older and disabled people stand to lose important preventive services and face increased out-of-pocket costs for necessary medication.”

See the Center for Medicare Advocacy’s press release on the hearings at: http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/fact-checking-the-confirmation-hearing-of-secretary-of-health-and-human-services-nominee-tom-price/.

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