Over the past two weeks, Congressman Tom Price, M.D. (R-GA) completed his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance as well the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committees.
The next step in the process for Price is confirmation by a full Senate vote. However, on Tuesday, Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee boycotted a committee hearing where the vote would have moved Price's nomination to the Senate Floor for the final confirmation vote. In rebuttal to the Democrats' boycott, Republicans members of the Senate Finance Committee met yesterday and voted to temporarily lift a requirement that at least one Democrat be in attendance when voting on an executive branch nominee. Given that the Republican White House and GOP Congress are anxious for next steps and a more clear direction to move forward with replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is likely that Congressman Price will soon take the helm at 200 Independence Avenue, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Once confirmed, Secretary Price will play a leading role in the development and direction of the Republican repeal and replacement strategy.
Although Congress has begun an ACA repeal process through budget reconciliation, details and consensus regarding the repeal of specific provisions and policies remain scarce. Last week's Congressional Republican Policy Retreat in Philadelphia also yielded few details or specifics on how the party plans to move forward with its healthcare plan.
Price's Previous Healthcare Reform Efforts While In Congress:
As speculation continues, many healthcare stakeholders have looked to Congressman Price’s past health care legislative record as one source for a glimpse into what may be on the horizon for ACA replacement and future healthcare policy. Price’s most recent healthcare reform legislative offering (introduced in May 2015), H.R. 2300, "Empowering Patients First", sought to:
- Promote Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), and self-directed pre-tax healthcare dollars as well as raise the annual tax-free contribution limit to $5,500;
- Repeal ACA tax related provisions, to include: medical devices, health insurers, and pharmaceutical manufacturers;
- Repeal the ACA dependent healthcare coverage expansion, allowing coverage up to age 26, as well as guaranteed coverage regardless of preexisting conditions;
- Reinstatement of lifetime healthcare benefit caps;
- Provide individuals qualifying for Medicare and Medicaid with tax credits as opposed to utilizing the existing coverages and programs;
- Repeal ACA Medicaid expansion;
- Repeal of Medicare benefit expansions;
- Eliminate the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovations (CMMI).
Price Confirmation Hearings and Healthcare Policy Statements:
During this past week’s confirmation hearings, Congressman Price amended or "walked back" some of his previous healthcare reform positions, to include:
- Endorsement of the CMMI, but maintained that the program had lost focus and was no longer acting as it was originally intended;
- Committing to preserving patient access to health insurance regardless of preexisting conditions;
- Indicated there are no immediate plans to overhaul the Medicare & Medicaid programs ACA repeal & replacement is the priority;
- Confirmation that any ACA repeal package would not serve as a vehicle for reform of Medicare & Medicaid;
- An interest in working with Congress to privatize certain aspects of the Medicare program.
Additionally, Congressman Price does not provide comment regarding his past support of Medicaid block grants for the States that had been increasingly discussed as part of a ACA replacement package.
While we await the confirmation of Congressman Price, Congress continues to discuss options and timelines for the advancement of legislation to replace Obamacare. This week, in particular, forced a number of U.S. House and Senate Committee hearings to examine healthcare reform.