Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), who has fought for the repeal of Obamacare since 2009 and has remained invested in health care stocks even as he sponsored legislation affecting those companies, was confirmed as the country’s next secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) early on Friday morning. The vote — 52 to 47 — broke down by party lines.
Before the late night vote, Democratic senators continued to make their case on the Senate floor about why Price should not be confirmed as the next HHS secretary. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) read letters she received from Americans with cancer who said they needed Obamacare to continue their treatments and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said Price’s “antiquated views” on women’s health care were unacceptable. Price once said “there’s not one” woman in the United States who couldn’t afford birth control.
Republicans have said Price will be instrumental to their plans to repeal Obamacare, formally known as The Affordable Care Act. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he was looking forward to Price’s confirmation so “he can get to work helping provide relief from Obamacare and stabilizing the health care markets,” according to The Hill.
Indeed, Price has been one of the fiercest critics of Obamacare on Capitol Hill. He has led efforts to replace it in every Congress since 2009. In 2012, Price introduced a replacement bill that would not prevent insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, calling this provision “a terrible idea.”
If Obamacare were repealed, and there weren’t any individual mandate to create a balanced pool of healthy and sick Americans, sicker people would become more expensive for insurers to cover. In turn, this would create higher premiums which would push out healthier people, and sicker people would continue to pay even more. The repeal of the health care law could also create an economic slowdown, according to a recent Economic Policy Institute report. A repeal could reduce job growth by almost 1.2 million in 2019.
Price has also spent his career trying to weaken, if not dismantle, Medicare and Medicaid. He supports privatizing Medicare, raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, and turning the Medicaid program into a block grant. This would result in significant cuts to federal funding to states that help states implement Medicaid. This would likely result in states putting people on waiting lists for coverage or putting caps on enrollment.
Although President Donald Trump tapped Price as HHS secretary, Trump did not campaign on cuts to Medicaid and Medicare. In June 2015, when he announced his candidacy for president, Trump said, “Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it.” Trump has also said he wanted to keep some provisions of Obamacare.
Shortly before the vote, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said Trump’s choice of Price for secretary was therefore hypocritical.
“My opposition to Congressman Price has less to do with his well-known extreme economic views than it does with the hypocrisy and dishonesty of President Trump,” Sanders said. “Congressman Price’s record is the opposite of what President Trump promised to working families and seniors all over this country. Now if President Trump ran his campaign by saying, ‘I’m going to cut Social Security and cut Medicare and Medicaid and put together a cabinet that will do just that,’ I think Congressman Price would have been the perfect candidate. But that is not the campaign Donald Trump ran.”
Like many of Trump’s cabinet picks, there are also big questions about Price’s investments and conflicts of interest. Price faces multiple allegations of insider trading. Former government ethics lawyers say that Price sold health care company stocks so often that he was probed multiple times by federal securities regulators, as well as by the House ethics committee, USA Today reported.
Price also gave incorrect times for his stock purchases or simply didn’t report them. And he failed to report how much the health care companies he invested in benefited from legislation he introduced in Congress, the USA Today report found.