Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services, just put down some potentially important markers on health care policy.
During a Senate hearing Wednesday, Price said is “absolutely imperative” that people with insurance get to keep their coverage even if Republicans repeal Obamacare.
Price also said that, as far as he knows, Trump continues to oppose cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.
Making sure nobody loses coverage and maintaining existing funding for Medicaid isn’t consistent with what Republicans, including Price, have said or endorsed in the past.
In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. Republican proposals to repeal Obamacare and transform Medicaid into a block grant would result in far less federal spending on health care ― and, as a direct consequence, many millions of Americans losing their health insurance.
But Price’s comments contained the usual ambiguity, making it impossible to know exactly what he was trying to say ― or what the statements tell us about policy decisions by the Trump administration.
Price made the comments to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The HELP meeting is part of the confirmation process, although it’s considered a “courtesy” hearing because the Finance Committee, not HELP, will vote on Price’s appointment.
Price, a physician, phrased his answers carefully, leaving plenty of room for different interpretations.
The quote about people keeping coverage, for example, came in response to a question from HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). It wasn’t entirely clear whether Price was speaking strictly about the short-term while Republicans consider and construct their “replacement” for the Affordable Care Act, or whether he was also referring the long term, once that replacement plan is in place.
But Price’s full quote certainly suggested that maintaining levels of insurance coverage would be a priority for the Trump Administration:
“Nobody’s interested in pulling out the rug from under anybody,” Price said. “We believe that it’s absolutely imperative that individuals that have health coverage be able to keep health coverage and move hopefully to greater choices and opportunities for them to gain the kind of coverage they want for themselves and for their families.”
Price went on to say, “I think there has been a lot of talk about individuals losing health coverage. That is not our goal nor is it our desire nor is it our plan.”
Later in the hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) presented multiple quotes from the presidential campaign, during which Trump had indicated he opposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Here’s how that exchange went:
SANDERS: Is the president-elect, Mr. Trump, going to keep his word to the American people and not cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid? Or did he lie to the American people?
PRICE: I haven’t had extensive discussions with him about the comments he made. But I have no reason to believe that he has changed his position.
SANDERS: So you are telling us that to the best of your knowledge, Mr. Trump will not cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
PRICE: As I say, I have no reason to believe that position has changed.
If Trump actually opposes cuts to Medicaid ― and if he is actually determined to preserve coverage for people who have it ― he’s going to have a hard time reconciling those views with the proposals that congressional Republicans have floated over the years.
A prime example is legislation that Price has introduced in the House of Representatives.
That bill would devote significantly less money to help lower-income people buy health insurance. In addition, Price has repeatedly advocated cutting Medicaid spending for poor Americans, in ways that experts say would lead to millions losing coverage.
Enacting either of those bills, or some variation of them, would mean reversing Obamacare’s progress on the uninsured. The law has helped around 20 million people get health insurance, according to multiple estimates, and reduced the number of uninsured Americans to a record low.
The law also disrupted some existing insurance arrangements, leaving some people to pay higher prices or face higher out-of-pocket costs than they did before. This is largely because the law now requires insurers to cover a wide swath of benefits and to insure everybody, regardless of pre-existing conditions.
Price and other Republicans have promised to make insurance cheaper, primarily by scaling back or eliminating those requirements.