Dr. Price discusses ACA, regulatory burdens, transparency, and drug prices in nomination hearing

Jan. 24, 2017
Rep. Tom Price, MD (R-Ga.) ― President Trump’s pick for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ― sat before the Senate Finance Committee, which will determine if his nomination proceeds to a confirmation vote, and answered questions about several health care issues.

Affordable Care Act
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, referenced President Trump’s executive order that directs the secretary of HHS to work toward the swift repeal of the ACA. Sen. Wyden asked Dr. Price if he could assure that no one citizen will be worse off if the ACA is repealed? Dr. Price committed to working with Congress to ensure access to high-quality care. Piggybacking off of Sen. Wyden’s question, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) asked if Dr. Price would enforce the ACA’s ban on discriminating against patients with pre-existing conditions or patients with illnesses that are expensive to treat. Dr. Price responded, “Nobody ought to lose their insurance because they get a bad diagnosis.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) asked what tools Dr. Price will utilize to provide stability and improve the individual insurance markets to make them more appealing so that insurance carriers will want to come back? Dr. Price stated, “This law isn’t working. It’s not working for patients. One of the goals I have is to lower the temperature in this debate.” He indicated that government should assure carriers that the replacement plan will be more attractive to insurers.

When asked by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) what his overall goals are for an ACA replacement plan, Dr. Price reiterated his desire to provide accessible and affordable coverage for high quality care while offering patients choices.

CMMI
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, asked Dr. Price about his thoughts on the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) ― the agency under CMS that develops and tests value-based payment models. “Innovation is so incredibly important to health care and the vibrant quality of health care that we need to be able to provide to our citizens,” Dr. Price said. “One of the roles that we as policymakers have is to incentivize innovation. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation is a vehicle that might do just that. I think, however, that CMMI has gotten off track a bit. I think that what it has done is defined areas where it has mandatorily dictated to physicians and other providers in this country in certain areas how they must practice. I’m a strong supporter of innovation but I hope that we can move CMMI in a direction that actually makes sense for patients.”

Regulatory burdens
Sen. Roberts referenced various regulations, such as meaningful use, that have caused undue burdens on providers and asked Dr. Price how he will work to alleviate the burden. In response, Dr. Price agreed stating that, “The regulatory scheme that we’ve put in place is choking the individuals that are actually trying to provide care. So much so that you have physicians and other providers who are leaving the practice. The meaningful use project makes it that much more difficult. We’ve turned physicians into data entry clerks.” Dr. Price went on to say that recognizing the problem is the first step and then government must take a second look at the consequences of what it has done.

Transparency: Quality and cost
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) asked Dr. Price about his opinions on transparency in health care, to which Dr. Price stated firmly that quality and cost information regarding care should be available to patients. “Outcomes are important and we need to be measuring what makes sense from a quality standpoint and allow patients and others to see what those outcomes are,” Dr. Price said. “But it’s transparency in pricing as well. If you’re an individual and want to know what something costs, it’s virtually impossible to find out what that is. If we want to make the system patient-friendly, not insurance-friendly or government-friendly, then we would make that a priority.”

Drug pricing
With regard to access to medications, Sen. Wyden asked Dr. Price if he would be willing to follow President Trump’s recommendation and allow federal health care plans the authority to negotiate drug prices. In response, Dr. Price said, “Right now the PBMs [pharmacy benefits managers] are doing that negotiation. It’s important to have the conversation and look at whether or not there’s a better way to do that. If there is, then I’m certainly open to it.”

In addition to a litany of questions on various health care related issues, several members of the committee reiterated concerns about the ethics of Dr. Price’s investments in various health-related companies while supporting bills that could have benefited these companies. The Senate Finance Committee will vote on Dr. Price’s nomination within the next several weeks.