5 standout exchanges from Rep. Tom Price's first hearing for HHS post

Rep. Tom Price, MD, R-Ga., faced nearly four hours of questioning Wednesday during a hearing in the Senate health committee on his nomination for secretary of HHS.

Rep. Price, an orthopedic surgeon and six-term Congressman, remained cool throughout the heated question and answer session. He will face a second hearing next Tuesday in the Senate finance committee, in which his nomination will be voted on.

Here are five of the most memorable exchanges between Rep. Price and senators during the health committee hearing.

1. On potential conflicts of interest in the stock market
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., raised the issue of Rep. Price's investment in Zimmer Biomet, which produces hip and knee implants. According to Sen. Warren, Rep. Price bought stock in Zimmer Biomet six days before introducing a bill that would benefit the company. Rep. Price confirmed that the stocks were bought at that time, but said he was not aware of it because his broker handles those decisions. Later in the hearing he stated that he does not discuss legislative activities with his broker.  

"The fact of the matter is that I have had no conversations with my broker about any political activity at all other than her congratulating me on my election," Rep. Price said in response to a question from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, backed Rep. Price's stock holdings, calling the questions "a hypocritical attack." House rules do not prohibit trading stocks and members of the Senate health committee have also traded health stocks while serving on the committee, he said.

2. On measuring the success of an ACA replacement
Republicans have put forth a number of different ACA replacement plans, but President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post Saturday that a final plan is nearly finished and will be revealed as soon as Rep. Price's nomination is confirmed.

During the hearing, rather than "get the specifics of this secret replacement plan," Sen. Murphy instead asked Rep. Price how he plans to measure the success of this plan. Rep. Price said cost will not be the No. 1 metric. "If you look at the things that many of us believe have been harmed by the ACA, I hope we are able to decrease the out-of-pocket cost for individuals, increase choices, increase access to the doctors and providers they want," Rep. Price told Sen. Murphy.

3. On the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation
When asked by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., about provisions of the ACA that impede the physician-patient relationship, Rep. Price discussed his opposition to CMMI, the division of CMS created under the ACA to test value-based care reform through demonstrations like ACOs.

"I am a strong proponent and advocate for innovation, but I have seen in certain instances what is coming out of CMMI is a desire to require certain kind of treatment for certain diseases that may or may not be in the best interest of the patient," Rep. Price said. "Because it carries the full force of the federal government and the payment for those services, it means we are answering the question of who decides about what kind of care patients receive, by saying the answer on that ought to be Washington, D.C. I simply reject that that is where those decisions ought to be made."

Rep. Price also voiced opposition to the mandatory nature of some CMMI demonstrations, such as the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Program.

4. On drug prices
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asked Rep. Price about his take on allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies, a policy for which Mr. Trump has voiced support.

"The issue of drug pricing and drug cost is one of great concern to all Americans. I think it is important to appreciate the areas where we have had significant success," Rep. Price said, naming generics as an area of success.

When asked to clarify if he will work with Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies, he said: "You have my commitment to work with you and others to make certain that the drug pricing is reasonable and that individuals across this land have access to the medications that they need."

5. On the federal debt
Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., grilled Rep. Price on his support for the current budget resolution approved by Republicans in the House and the Senate that, alongside an ACA repeal, would add $9.7 trillion more to the debt over the next decade.

"There are a lot of contributions to the debt," Rep. Price said. He underscored the budget resolution is not final since it still must go through the reconciliation process.

"What I support is an opportunity to use reconciliation to address the real challenges in the ACA and to make certain we put in place at the same time a provision that allows us to move the healthcare system in a much better direction," Rep. Price replied when asked if he supported the budget.

Watch the full hearing on C-SPAN here.

 

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