- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for health secretary, said Wednesday the government should replace Obamacare’s health mandates with policies that instead give Americans “access” to plans, while not harming those who bought into the current system.

He also said the GOP is not planning an overhaul of Medicare in the early going under Mr. Trump, contradicting Democrats who predicted an effort to gut the health program for senior citizens.

Testifying to the Senate health committee Mr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon and Georgia Republican, stopped short of embracing Mr. Trump’s recent vow to provide “insurance for everybody.”

“Today folks might have coverage but they don’t have care,” Mr. Price told the committee at the first of two Capitol Hill hearings on his confirmation.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander said Mr. Price was an “excellent choice” to head of the Health and Human Services Department, where he would oversee an agency with a $1 trillion-plus budget, government insurance programs and efforts to defeat global health scares like Ebola and Zika.

In the near term, Republicans are counting on Mr. Price to lead their effort to replace the Affordable Care Act with a plan that uses age-based tax credits and market forces to entice consumers into health insurance, rather than requiring Americans to get covered or pay a tax.

GOP leaders are using a fast-track budget process that allows them to gut Obamacare while avoiding a Democratic filibuster, citing the program’s rising premiums and dwindling choices on its web-based exchanges. Yet the party is still trying to get on the same page with Mr. Trump and coalesce around a replacement plan, prompting anxiety among people who rely on President Obama’s law.

Mr. Price said no one will “have the rug pulled out” from under them, though he shed little new light on the emerging plan beyond the fact it would likely be ready by March. He said people who hold coverage now would be protected, and that the sickest Americans could be covered under high-risk pools if they’re priced out of the marketplace.

“The goal is make certain that every single American has that access to coverage that they want for themselves and their families,” Mr. Price said.

Democrats said that wasn’t enough of an assurance for those who struggled to find coverage before Obamacare.

“I have ‘access’ to buying a $10 million home. I don’t have the money to do that,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent.

Mr. Trump recently told The Washington Post he wanted a system that provided “insurance for everybody,” though it is unclear if the mogul was putting his verbal spin on the GOP’s push for universal “access” to insurance. The mogul and other Republicans have rejected efforts to set up a European-style, “single payer” system in which the government covers everyone.

Mr. Price will face a second grilling next week before the Senate Finance Committee, which unlike the health panel will vote on his confirmation.

Senate Democrats do not hold the votes to derail Mr. Price on the floor, though they’ve highlighted reports that he traded hundreds of thousands in health-related stocks even as he advocated for legislation that could affect those companies.

The Trump transition team said Mr. Price did nothing wrong, because a broker selected the stocks as part of a broad portfolio and told him about it later. Plus, the trades have been disclosed as required.

The panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, accused Mr. Price of getting a sweetheart deal on stock in an Australian biotech company that combats multiple sclerosis. She said Mr. Price told her during a private meeting that he bought the stock at a discounted price based on a tip from Rep. Chris Collins, New York Republican.

“No, that’s not correct,” said Mr. Price, saying his colleague only told him about the company, Innate Immunotherapeutics.

Unlike the trades he didn’t know about until later, Mr. Price said he directed his broker to make the stock purchase in that specific company as part of a “private placement offering” to select investors.

Mrs. Murray said the purchase occurred while the 21st Century Cures Act — legislation to speed the approval of cures and associates drugs — was pending, though Mr. Price insisted he “had no access to nonpublic information.”

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