What Dr. Tom Price means by healthcare 'access'

Rep. Tom Price, MD, R-Ga., agrees "access" is a critical component of healthcare reform, though his application of the term is significantly different than under the ACA, according to The Atlantic.

Rep. Price, President Donald Trump's pick to serve as secretary of HHS, spoke repeatedly about access in his answers to questions from the Senate Finance Committee during his second confirmation hearing Tuesday.

"What I want I commit to, Senator, is working with you and every single member of Congress to make certain we have the highest quality healthcare and that every single American has access to affordable coverage," Rep. Price replied when Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked if he would stop enforcing the ACA under President Trump's executive order.

Rep. Price repeated similar statements throughout his hearing, as well as at another hearing last week, in which he said all Americans should "have the opportunity to gain access" to health insurance, according to the report.

This idea is markedly different than the promise of the ACA, which not only expands access but also guarantees health insurance to all Americans via the individual mandate. Under former President Barack Obama's signature health reform law, Democrats strived for "universal coverage," in which everyone is covered, regardless of who they are or what they can afford. Prior to the ACA, insurers could deny people coverage for a variety of reasons, such as pre-existing health conditions.

On the other hand, Republicans such as Rep. Price are advocating for "universal access," in which the individual mandate would be scrapped. Not everyone would have health insurance, but everyone would theoretically have the right to buy it.

Rep. Price's comments drew ire from congressional Democrats during his hearing, who argued a universal "access" plan would expand the disparity between the wealthy and poor.

"'Has access to' does not mean they are guaranteed healthcare," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during the hearing, according to the report. "I have access to buying a $10 million home. I don't have the money to do that."

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