President Donald Trump’s point man on repealing and replacing Obamacare provided no new clues about how the administration intends to reshape the health system during an at times testy confirmation hearing Tuesday.
Rep. Tom Price’s four-hour appearance before the Senate Finance Committee exasperated Democrats, coming just days after Trump issued a sweeping directive authorizing federal agencies to begin gutting the law.
The nominee to head HHS wouldn’t say if he would use the directive to scrap Obamacare’s unpopular requirement that most Americans get health coverage or pay a fine.
Price also dodged questions about whether he backs converting Medicaid into block grants, despite supporting the idea as House Budget Committee chairman.
And he gave vague assurances he wouldn’t “abandon” people with pre-existing conditions who can no longer be denied coverage under Obamacare while disputing a 2012 report that quoted him criticizing the law’s requirement that insurers cover that population.
“I don’t really understand why you want to divorce yourself from your record,” Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said toward the end of the hearing. “I’m not asking you about the difference in your roles. What I’m asking you is: What do you believe in?”
The six-term congressman and former orthopedic surgeon’s carefully phrased responses almost certainly aided his cause. Committee Republicans, who hold a 14-12 voting edge and who have enthusiastically praised Price’s qualifications, are expected to send the nomination to the floor, setting up a Senate confirmation vote that’s likely to fall largely along party lines.
The vagueness was striking since Price authored one of the more detailed Obamacare replacement bills and has called for radically overhauling Medicare and cutting federal funding for Medicaid. Yet on multiple occasions during the hearing, Price declined to endorse specific policies, arguing that his role at HHS would be more administrative than legislative.
“The role of the Department of Health and Human Services is to administer the laws that you pass,” Price said.
Democrats tried to draw blood by juxtaposing the breadth and urgency of Trump’s order with congressional Republicans’ assurances that any rollback of Obamacare would not disrupt the lives of the 20 million who hav