Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Price Says Affordability, Access Key To Health Care Reform

Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017,
Associated Press
Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017,
Price Says Affordability, Access Key To Health Care Reform
Price Says Affordability, Access Key To Health Care Reform GUESTS: Vernita Todd, senior vice president for external affairs, Health Center Partners of Southern California Gary Rotto, senior vice president of government and public affairs, Borrego Health

It may be a classic -- a classic case of too little too late just as the Republican majority Ms. forward on a plan to repeal the affordable care act and NBC Wall Street Paul finds Obamacare has never been more popular and half of the respondent say they have no faith the GOP can come up with anything better. Health and Human Services not many representatives Tom price said and confirmation hearings today that it was imperative that Americans with health plan state insured. Nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody. They were are preparing as best they can for significant changes. I spoke with Renita Todd senior vice president for external affairs at health central partners and Gary senior vice president of government and public affairs Abrego health. You are just in DC last week to speak with Republican lawmakers about the affordable care act. What did you learn? I learned that the process is moving forward but is not as sure as anyone would believe I so we have heard a lot about votes for repeal the first step in that process is moving it toward reconciliation has now indeed happened. What we are now charged with is coming back with an actual planned veterans cost over $1 billion in these communities and that will determine how we move forward with reconciliation or change in parts of the building at the price tag. Were you there to tell the lawmakers that you met. I was there to share the importance of the increased access that happened through the Medicaid or Medi-Cal for California population. And in addition to increasing access for those families and we were open for families prior to the affordable care act and we will be here after any changes are made and we will be here with health centers that have faced valid with each of us congressional offices has been dependent on a strong Medicaid system. That has allowed us an increase in access There isn't any clear front runner or clear policy about what will replace Obamacare. What do you think are the likely features of whatever system comes next? What I am hearing is that the changes will be along the line of letting the states tomorrow. The concern that we would have that I think they would agree to any other health centers that there is a guarantee for the community health centers and how they are able to participate in California and the Medi-Cal program and that there is a protection for how we get paid and we are fully reimbursed for our cost of doing business which includes all the enabling services that are so important in doing outreach and getting some more people onto Medi-Cal and into a continuity of care. How has the affordable care act impacted. When you look at the expansion in 2014 we have doubled the number of patients [Indiscernible] we are able to get them into a patient set up and -- medical home model which is also something that the affordable care act released the health centers to engage in. It provided increased quality and communication. What about health central partners. Heavy also experienced this kind of increase in people coming in to be able to access healthcare? It is a voluntary association of 17 private nonprofit health centers one of which is Abrego health. As a consortia where a group of these 17 senators see about hundred 20,000 families in our service area and we have seen pre-ACA and post-ACA about a 20% increase overall in the number of folks that are getting coverage. What do you think is essential for a replacement plan to have an order for the system to continue to work There are two things that I think are essential. One is a strong Medicaid are safety net program and I said that because when folks talk about Medicaid or Medi-Cal they say entitlement and it creates a buzzword. When we start talking about the income requirement and understanding that that means and individual making less than 18,000 dollars per year can get some health -- help toward their healthcare are can be providing three -- free access to healthcare. They cannot afford a system that reimburses them it is just another bill that they can't pay. Second are the protections of the law are books that not only got their coverage through Medicaid and the ACA was designed to increase access to care improve benefits and lower costs that was a pre-pronged strategy. Enhanced benefits mean that some very basic things that instruments should cover when paying for the premiums. Those types of protections along with the protections for families are critical as we move forward to those are very popular. Also knowing that caps on annual limits on lifetime limits come into play if you have a serious diagnosis. Without those a process back in the same position we were pre-ACA which was an unsustainable system that did not work. We do not want to go backwards. The repeal and replacement of Obamacare that the GOP promises in this Congress. There has been strong support for the affordable care act for the Medi-Cal expansion and adding children that were undocumented into the Medi-Cal program this is recognition that healthcare really is a right rather than a privilege we want to make sure everybody has had Medicare the stronger the supporters for continuing to provide quality care to everybody. Thank you both very much for joining me.

President-elect Donald Trump's pick for health secretary said Wednesday that access and affordability were his goals for revamping health care, and he offered assurances that the new administration is not planning to launch a Medicare overhaul.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at the start of a confirmation process that at times turned contentious.

He said the health care system is losing focus on patients, its first priority.


He answered "absolutely not," when asked if the incoming administration intends to tackle Medicare while trying to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law and replace it with a GOP version.

As for the coverage goal of a new health law, Price said no one is interested in pulling the rug out from under any American. Pressed on prescription drug costs, he said pricing decisions by pharmaceutical companies sometimes don't seem to make sense. But Price stopped short of endorsing direct negotiations between the government and drug companies.

The committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., praised the selection of Price, an orthopedic surgeon-turned-lawmaker, to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Alexander also warned fellow Republicans not to attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement.

But the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, said she has "serious concerns" about Price's qualifications.

With coverage for millions of people at stake, Price is facing pointed questions about Trump's health policies — and his own investments in health care companies.


Price is largely a known quantity on Capitol Hill, but Trump's bottom line on health care remains a mystery for Democrats and Republicans alike. While Trump campaigned on repealing Obama's law, at times he's sounded more like a liberal. For example, he made recent comments about providing insurance for everyone and taking on the drug companies.

Trump said in an interview aired Wednesday on Fox that his approach would offer coverage through private insurers for people who cannot afford it.

"Nobody is going to be dying on the streets with a President Trump," he said. Trump offered no details. He said his plan would "probably" turn Medicaid over to the states in the form of block grants to cover low-income people.

Price, 62, represents Atlanta's northern suburbs and leads the House Budget Committee. A budget hawk and a social conservative, he drafted his own plan to replace Obama's health law, which now provides coverage for about 20 million people. It would have saved taxpayers money but covered fewer people, according to an outside analysis.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., pressed Price on whether Trump intends to keep promises repeatedly made during the presidential campaign not to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

"I have no reason to believe he's changed his position," Price said.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., questioned Price about prescription drug costs.

He acknowledged that there are "certain areas where drug price increases seem to have little basis in rational actions." But pressed on whether he would support Trump's call for Medicare to negotiate with drug companies, Price tried to sidestep. If confirmed, Trump would be his boss, Price said, but he also suggested that the idea of negotiations needs further study.

Democrats also challenged Price on his extensive stock portfolio. His investments have prompted questions about potential conflicts of interest and calls for a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of possible insider trading.

Last week, Price signed a government ethics agreement pledging to sell his stocks, but that hasn't stopped the questions.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., suggested Price got a special deal in the purchase of stock in an Australian drug company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. But Price insisted he other investors also had the same option.

"I think our job is to avoid the appearance of conflict," Franken chastised. "And you have not done that."

Republicans bristled at such questions.

"To question whether you are honest is insulting," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Price.

The department Price would lead has a $1 trillion budget and about 80,000 employees. It runs major health insurance programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and Price would also be ultimately responsible for the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Generally, Republicans want to overhaul the health care system to shift a greater financial responsibility and risk to individuals. They argue that would help create a genuine market for medical care, leading consumers to demand lower prices for services.

Republicans would loosen many Obama-era regulations on insurers, such as limits on how much older customers can be charged, and requirements that certain benefits be covered. They would cap the tax-free status of employer-provided health insurance. And Price favors limitations on jury awards in malpractice cases.

The Senate panel is one of two Senate committees that will hold hearings on Price. The Finance Committee, which actually votes on reporting the nomination to the Senate floor, will conduct a hearing next week.