- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2017

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Friday he thinks the Senate will pass its Obamacare replacement bill this summer, even though leading Republicans have refused to commit themselves to a firm timeline, saying they’ll get it done before the end of the year.

Mr. Price, speaking to radio host Hugh Hewitt, said he thinks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can rally his troops and hold a vote before the lengthy August recess.

“Leader McConnell is absolutely committed to getting a bill out of the Senate, and we will continue to work with the leader and all the other senators who are interested, as I say, in working toward a positive, productive outcome,” Mr. Price said in response to a question about the recess benchmark. “And I do, I believe the Senate will produce a bill this summer.”

GOP leaders in Congress have been careful about setting down markers for wrapping up the repeal-and-replace effort, particularly after a planned House vote in March fell apart, forcing negotiators to rewrite the bill before it squeaked through by four votes this month.

Even so, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan joined Mr. Price in pressuring the Senate to act.

“My hope and goal is that they get this done sooner than later, and that’s within a month or so,” he told WISN radio host Vicki McKenna in Wisconsin on Friday.

Mr. Price acknowledged that there’s still work to do in the Senate, where a narrow 52-seat majority is grappling with how to rein in Obamacare’s vast expansion of Medicaid, the generosity of tax credits in the GOP plan and whether to roll back strictures the 2010 law placed on insurers.

“This is a legislative process that they’re going through. And the Senate bill’s going to look different than the House bill,” Mr. Price said. “And then they’re going to have to sort out those differences.”

“But what the president has committed to, and what we’re committed to, is to facilitating and making certain that whatever we’re able to do to help that process along, and make certain that we get to a final product that will improve and reform the health care system so that patients and families and doctors are running the show and not Washington, D.C., then we’re happy to assist in any way,” he said.

Mr. Price also said his department is trying to resolve a series of lawsuits over the previous administration’s birth-control mandate, but that it is taking a while because he doesn’t have a full team at HHS.

Religious nonprofits sought a total carve-out from Obamacare-relates rules forcing them to affirmatively opt out of covering contraceptives they find morally objectionable.

A deadlocked Supreme Court ordered the Obama administration and suing parties to negotiate a solution in which female employees could still get the drugs and services covered, but without involving the faith-based employers — a negotiation that’s seeped into the Trump administration.

Mr. Trump is considered an ally of the religious hospitals, charities and universities, so some conservatives are wondering why it’s taking so long to find a solution.

“We’re working through that right now,” Mr. Price said. “As you know, we’ve got a new team in place, and with, it’s one of our priorities, and we’re in a deliberative process on that. It would be helpful if the Senate assisted and approved many of the nominees.”

Mr. Hewitt also urged Mr. Price to call up West Virginia Capitol authorities and urge them to drop charges against a local journalist who was arrested for approaching the secretary during a recent visit and yelling a question at him.

Mr. Price said he had no plans to intervene.

“This is an issue for the West Virginia Capitol Police,” Mr. Price said. “They were doing a stellar job. Our detail was making certain that we were able to get to the round table and to the press conference. This wasn’t in the press conference, you know, Hugh. This was, this gentleman was not in the press conference.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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