Hart Health Strategies provides a comprehensive policy briefing on a weekly basis. This in-depth health policy briefing is sent out at the beginning of each week. The health policy briefing recaps the previous week and previews the week ahead. It alerts clients to upcoming congressional hearings, newly introduced bills, regulatory announcements, and implementation activity related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and other health laws.


Price Begins HHS Secretary Confirmation Process

Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held the first confirmation hearing for Rep. Tom Price, M.D. (R-Ga.), who has been nominated by President Trump to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). During the nearly four-hour hearing, Price was repeatedly questioned by committee Democrats about his stock trades and investment in biotechnology companies at discounted prices. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) had previously written to Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) asking him to delay the hearing in order to fully investigate reports about Rep. Price’s investments in health care companies and subsequent support for legislation that would help those companies. Their remarks echoed those of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has called for an investigation of Rep. Price’s alleged conflicts of interest by the Office of Congressional Ethics. During the hearing, Rep. Price maintained that the investments were made by a broker.

Rep. Price responded to many questions about the administration’s plans for replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Republican committee members expressed support for waiting to repeal the health care law until the GOP had coalesced around a replacement plan. Price agreed with Republican calls to stabilize the insurance market in the short-term, and to move forward with repeal and replacement at a moderate pace. In an interview with the Washington Post last week, President Trump said that he was in the process of finalizing an ACA replacement plan that would include “insurance for everybody.” Since the interview, the Vice President and others in the administration have clarified that the plan will make insurance affordable for everyone. Rep. Price echoed these remarks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate HELP Committee, but few other specifics about the administration’s replacement plan were offered. He did voice support for policies such as health savings accounts (HSAs) and high risk pools. When questioned about maintaining popular parts of the ACA like coverage for preexisting conditions and allowing young people to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, Rep. Price noted that many of the issues at hand would be decided by lawmakers in Congress, not the administration.

Price did not directly answer questions regarding overhaul of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. In the past, Rep. Price has proposed changes to the programs that would result in funding cuts, while President Trump has vowed to protect the entitlement programs. Although Price would not commit to supporting negotiation of drug prices in the Medicare program, he did agree on the need for more transparency around drug pricing. In response to questioning about the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), Price said that he saw the potential of the agency but was opposed to the mandatory nature of some previously proposed demonstrations.

Price’s work in Congress as a doctor-lawmaker was applauded by his Republican colleagues, who expressed strong support for his nomination. Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced that the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Rep. Price’s nomination on Tuesday. Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) opposes the scheduled hearing, and has accused his Republican colleagues of rushing the nomination process to avoid a thorough examination of their ethics concerns. The HELP hearing was a courtesy hearing; the Finance Committee has the responsibility to vote on Price’s nomination to advance the nomination for consideration by the full Senate. HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said that he expects Price to be confirmed by mid-February.

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