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Price hearing: dramatic ACA metaphors and the meaning of “access”

Beth Mole
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) testifies during his confirmation hearing.
In a four-hour Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services, tried unsuccessfully to ratchet down the rhetoric surrounding the fate of the Affordable Care Act. He repeatedly emphasized that “nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody.” And in broad strokes he described the Republicans' replacement plan—which has yet to be revealed—as a beefed-up version of the ACA; a plan that covers even more people, has better benefits, and is cheaper.
He went on, explaining:
We believe that it’s absolutely imperative that individuals that have health coverage be able to keep health coverage, and move—hopefully—to greater choices and opportunities for them to gain the kind of coverage they want for themselves and for their families… There’s been a lot of talk about individuals losing health coverage. That is not our goal, nor is it our desire, nor is it our plan.
The assurances stopped there, however, as did hope of calming the fevered debate on the subject. Senators on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which held the hearing, continued to pepper the discussion with dramatic statements. Republicans compared the ACA to a collapsing bridge and described it as being in a death spiral. Democrats compared repealing the mammoth health law without replacement legislation to jumping out of a plane without a parachute.
There were several moments in the hearing in which it seemed as though there could be constructive discussion and bipartisan cooperation to improve healthcare in the country. They were dashed by Price’s vague responses and lack of details. His rhetoric rattled Democrats, who repeatedly asked for guarantees that the gains made by the ACA wouldn’t be rolled back.
Democrats pressed the six-term Republican to say that ACA replacement legislation—which as the head of HHS, he would be instrumental in helping shape—would maintain popular ACA benefits. Those include barring insurance companies from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions; putting caps on the amount of medical care that insurance will cover; allowing young adults to stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they’re 26; ensuring women have access to birth control; expanding access to Medicaid; and improving medical care for minorities. Many of those benefits would be lost with Price’s own drafted legislation to replace the ACA, the Empowering Patients First Act, which would also cause millions to lose coverage.
With each direct question, Price deflected, and he often repeated a canned response: “The goal is to make certain that every single American has the access to coverage that they want for themselves and for their families,” he said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders had the most pointed response that, noting “’has access to’ does not mean that they are guaranteed healthcare. I have access to buying a 10 million-dollar home. I don’t have the money to do that.”
After a few hours, it seemed some of the Democrats had tired of trying to argue the point. Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) shrugged off Price’s platitude, saying: “I’ll just note that those are two different things: having coverage and having access to coverage. And I think we’ve gone around on that a number of times.”

Mystery plans

But, Murphy was one of the few who tried to root around for more details about the Republicans' replacement plan. He noted that the goals of the “secret replacement plan” seemed “eerily familiar” to those of the ACA. “And yet, we don’t get any specifics as to how that’s going to occur.” Instead of asking directly for those details, he tried to get at them by asking about metrics—how Price might measure whether the replacement plan is a success. Again, Price only offered broad statements about increasing access to coverage and lowering costs.
While Democrats were left in the dark about the details of the ACA replacement, Republicans seemed to pitch ideas for a repeal plan. Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, (R-Tenn.), who described the ACA as a collapsing bridge, suggested that Republicans should immediately create a “rescue” plan that would prop up individual insurance markets in which insurance companies have pulled out and raised premiums. Then, with a temporary relief in place, the party should work on creating a permanent replacement for the ACA. Only after those two things have happened, he suggested, Republicans should then fully repeal the ACA.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also shrugged off the idea that the GOP would repeal without a replacement, despite the fact that the party has already begun a budgetary ACA dismantling process without introducing replacement legislation. “I think most people reject that idea,” she said. She also called the "repeal and delayed replacement plan" floated by some Republicans a bad idea. It creates “great anxiety” within the healthcare industry, she said.
Still, she emphasized that an ACA replacement is necessary. The individual market is seeing higher deductibles, higher premiums, and fewer choices, she said. “For us to say that everything is going well with Obamacare is just not accurate.”
Though healthcare costs were increasing before the ACA was enacted—and increased at a slower rate after enactment—some Democrats seemed willing to concede the point that the individual markets and overall costs could be better.
“I am all with you on fixing challenges going forward—more coverage, more affordable, more healthcare providers,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), former running mate of Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, said. But, he cautioned, moving forward with a quick repeal and a hasty replacement is ratcheting up rhetoric and concerns among Americans. “We shouldn’t harm people by creating an anxiety about the most important things in their lives—their healthcare and the healthcare of their families.”
Price hearing: dramatic ACA metaphors and the meaning of “access” Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 12:33 AM Rating: 5

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