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January 20, 2017

Price Clears Senate Panel for HHS Secretary Without Dems' Support

Mary Caffrey
Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee suspended rules to clear Cabinet nominees Price and Mnuchin after Democrats boycotted the vote the previous day.
The Senate Finance Committee today voted 14-0 to forward Georgia Congressman Tom Price’s nomination for HHS Secretary to the full Senate. Republicans suspended their rules to clear Price, whose nomination had been blocked Tuesday when Democrats refused to attend a scheduled vote.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s nomination also cleared the panel after being delayed by boycott.

On Tuesday, Republicans on the panel blasted Democrats for boycotting the vote, with Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, calling them “idiots.” Democrats would not attend after being denied a request for more time to address ethics concerns with both nominees.

Price, an orthopedic surgeon, was tapped to run the department that oversees Medicaid, Medicare, the FDA, and the CDC. His nomination drew drawn scrutiny after news reports revealed his business transactions seemed closely linked to his advocacy for legislation or CMS regulations.

Hatch called the Democrats’ boycott, “the most pathetic treatment I have seen in my 40 years in the Senate.” He told Democrats to “stop posturing and acting like idiots.” The rules suspension Wednesday is a reversal for Hatch, who has been one of the few in his party to oppose calls to end the Senate filibuster, which protects the rights of the minority party. Instead, Hatch suggested changing Senate rules in response.

Senators have questioned the timing of Price's stocks purchases in an Australian biomedical company, as well as a separate purchase made before he sponsored a bill to delay a bundled payment program for joint replacements. The company involved, Zimmer Biomet, also donated to Price’s reelection campaign.

Price was an early and consistent critic of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and presented an alternate health plan that would have ended the individual mandate and removed protections for people with preexisting conditions unless they maintained continuous coverage. His bill also called for ending Medicaid expansion and would have created state high-risk pools.

At his hearing before the Senate Finance Committee January 24, 2017, Price downplayed his ability to affect the future of the ACA, saying he would implement whatever laws Congress passed. Republican lawmakers have started the process to repeal the ACA, and competing replacement plans have been introduced in the Senate.

He is staunchly anti-abortion, opposes free birth control, and opposed a law that would have barred employers from firing a woman for having an abortion or using birth control. Recent evidence, including a report from the Guttmacher Institute, shows that increased access to birth control has helped bring the abortion and teen pregnancy rates to their lowest levels in decades.

Unlike many fellow Republicans, Price has not been fully on board with the transition to value-based care. Besides his opposition to bundled payments, he has been a harsh critic of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. He voted for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) but has criticized its implementation, saying the final rule would impede patient-doctor relationships.

 
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