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Trump’s HHS pick won’t say whether health care is a right

Twice, Sen. Bernie Sanders outright asked Rep. Tom Price. Twice, Rep. Tom Price equivocated.

CREDIT: Screenshot, Youtube
CREDIT: Screenshot, Youtube

In a heated exchange with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Trump’s choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, avoided a direct question over whether he believes that health care is a right for all Americans.

“Congressman Price, the United States of America is the only major country on Earth that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right. Canada does it, every major country in Europe does it.” Sanders said to Price. “Do you believe that health care is a right of all Americans, whether they are rich or they are poor?”

Price did not answer the question.

“We are a compassionate society,” he began, before Sen. Sanders cut off the platitude.

“No we are not a compassionate society. Our record is worse than any country on Earth in relation to poor and working people,” said Sanders. “So I don’t think compared to other countries, we are particularly compassionate. My question is, in Canada and other countries, all people have the right to get health care. Do you believe we should move in that direction?”

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Price said in response: “If you want to talk about other countries’ health care systems, there are consequences to the decisions they have made, just like there are consequences to the decisions we make. I look forward to making sure every single American has access to the highest quality care and coverage possible.”

Saying that every American should have access to health care, however, is different than saying every American has the right to health care. Access doesn’t ensure affordability. As Sen. Sanders put it, “I have access to buy a $10 million home — I don’t have the money to do that.”

Thus far, although Trump has repeatedly insisted that he means to provide “insurance for everyone,” Republicans have yet to provide a detailed plan that accomplishes this goal — or even meets the bar set by Obamacare.

The most recent, detailed Obamacare replacement plan floated by the GOP was sponsored by Rep. Price himself, last January. But Price’s plan, called the Empowering Patients First Act (EPFA), would actually roll back coverage for many Americans, and make plans much more expensive for others, according to health policy experts.

In his confirmation hearing, Price said that his plan would “put in place a system to give every person the financial feasibility to purchase the coverage they want.” But analyses of his proposal suggest that’s not exactly the case.

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Price’s previous plan would fund health care purchases through tax credits, like the ACA. Unlike the ACA, however, under Price’s plan the size of the tax credit would depend on age, not income bracket — which would leave younger, low-income Americans paying higher costs, while wealthier, older Americans would reap the financial benefits.

Price’s plan also rolls back the protections for Americans with preexisting conditions. Americans with preexisting conditions would be able to keep their rates low only if they maintain coverage for at least 18 months, which can be difficult for some with certain disorders. But if they lose insurance for any period of time, they can be charged up to 150 percent for their coverage.

Those who can’t afford the 150 percent surcharge would be shifted to high-risk insurance pools, varying state by state. In the past, these high-risk pools often had waiting lists, higher premiums, and large deductibles. Price has also proposed a scant $1 billion over three years to fund these pools, which experts say wouldn’t be nearly enough to cover the costs of providing insurance for sick Americans.

Price would also repeal the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to purchase health care even if they’re healthy. This part of Obamacare is deeply unpopular with Republicans. Repealing the mandate, however, is predicted by health experts to cause an exodus from the insurance market — driving up insurance premiums for everyone else.

Overall, Price’s ideas about health care reform — along with most plans the Republicans have floated for the past six years — might give wealthy Americans more choice over their health care. They won’t, however, solve the problems posed by high premiums, or make health care affordable and accessible for all Americans. That will make it awfully hard for President-elect Trump to keep his promises about insuring everyone.