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Live Coverage of Rep. Tom Price's Confirmation Hearing as HHS Secretary. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 10:30   ET


SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: You know, a trillion dollars is a lot of money. It's actually $1.1 trillion, but when you get to 1.1, why worry about it?


It's a lot of money. It's more than we appropriate, as the chairman said.

He's been chairman of the Budget Committee in the House of Representatives. He's served in the Georgia legislature leading appropriations for many, many years. He's run one of the largest medical practices in the state of Georgia. In fact, Tom Price is one of those people that put together what's known as regions -- Resurgence Orthopedics, they happen to be my doctors. In fact, they saved my son's right leg 26 years ago in a terrible automobile accident.

I understand the value of Resurgence Orthopedics and what Tom has done. It's now the largest practice in our state, a well-run practice and a practice that's set up as an example of how to do medicine in the 21st century. I want to know that my nominee for Health and Human Services knew and understood the health care business. Who better to understand the health care business than a doctor? Even better than that, a doctor who's married to another doctor.

Tom and Betty met at Grady Memorial Hospital when they were doing their residencies. They fell in love there and they fell in love with the practice of medicine. And I've watched them over the last 30 years participate in activities in our state. Whether elected or not, they contributed to the betterment of health care in our state, the betterment of hospitals like Grady Memorial Hospital, which is the largest crisis hospital and trauma center we have in the state of Georgia, saving lives every single day that would have probably not been there today had it not been for people like Tom Price, who gave of his time and his effort to see to it we raised the money necessary to keep Grady open.

I'd want to know they had some experience with the legislature, because you know if you get a chairman of Health and Human Services to come in, you give them a $1.1 trillion budget and then you say go talk to this 435 people over there and convince them what we need to do to change the law, that's a pretty tall order. You'd want to find somebody who's served in public office. Tom's been in the state Senate of Georgia, was the first elected Republican leader of the Georgia State Senate in the history of our state. He served in the Congress of the United States.

In fact, he improved the 6th District remarkably when I left and he was elected to replace me. Intellectual level went way up when Tom came, I can promise you that. He's done an outstanding job being re- elected seven -- six times to the United States House of Representatives, serving as I said as Budget Chairman, as Study Committee Chairman and as a very active member of the Congress of the United States of America. I'd want to also know if he was accountable person and believed in accountability. Tom Price believes in accountability. He's one of the rare one of us, in fact, he may be the only one of us, and I know this is true, that reads all the bills. Like, when I need to know something about a bill, rather than read it, I call Tom Price to give me advice because I know he's read it. Sometimes he's boring, but he's always knowledgeable.


And it's because he does his homework, he does it right, he believes in his responsibility.

Now, I'm going to mention a couple of things that have been said negative about Tom and I want to address them straight up because they're wrong. In fact, I did so on the floor of the Senate yesterday afternoon when Chuck Schumer took this case of Zimmer Biomet and tried to make it into a major case. Zimmer Biomet is a 26-year stock that Tom Price's broker who manages his account bought for him at the time Tom was unaware of the purchase. It was two months after the House had acted on a -- on a -- on a medical device bill.

There's a term of art called desperate impact, where you take two facts that are unrelated and you put them together to indict somebody for a wrong, when in fact nothing wrong was done at all, and that's the case there. The Zimmer Biomet, a $2,674 stock purchase, took place without Tom's knowledge because his account is managed by someone else. His knowledge of that purchase took place one month later, after the disclosure was made. He didn't even know about it at the time that it was made.

So the allegations that were made yesterday on the floor of the Senate are patently wrong, by taking two correct things putting together to make an incorrect thing.

Now second, something else has been said that I have working knowledge of. Tom was accused of not being for saving Social Security for seniors. Now, I'm 72-years-old. I ain't going to stand up here and try to get you all to prove somebody's not going to protect Social Security, because I got some of it, but let me tell you a little story about Tom Price. He and I got a phone call six months ago, I guess now it's been eight months, ago from AARP, asking us if we were traveling to town hall forums for AARP on saving Social Security.

Now, why would somebody call Tom Price, a congressman, or Johnny Isakson, a senator, to be the organization that represents seniors, to go on the road and do town hall meetings about saving Social Security if they weren't for saving Social Security? It's just incongruent and it doesn't make any sense.

Lastly, one of the best votes I cast four years ago for Cabinet members was a vote for Sylvia Burwell. When she came before this committee in the House and the Senate Committee on Finance, I was on both committees as I am today. She's an articulate, intelligent lady. There was a lot of reason for me as a Republican in the minority to say I'll just do a throw away vote and I'll vote against her because -- because she's a Democratic nominee.

But I listened to her answers, I studied her history, I watched her actions and I proudly voted for her and today she's a professional friend of mine and we'll miss her in her office. But there's nobody better qualified to replace Sylvia Burwell than Tom Price. I voted for Sylvia Burwell with pride/


And I'm going to vote for Tom Price with pride because I know he's the right man, for the right job, at the right time for America. He's my friend and I commend him to you and I urge you to vote for him and his confirmation.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: Thank you, Senator Isakson. That's much better than whatever was written for you to say.


Dr. Price, welcome to the committee.


Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray and -- and all the members of the committee, I want to thank you all for the opportunity to speak with you today and engage in, as the ranking member said, in the discussion about the road ahead for our great nation.

I want to thank Senator Johnny Isakson for his generous introduction. As he said, we've known each other for 30 years and I'm so grateful for his friendship and his kindness and our state is blessed to have had his service and his leadership.

I wish also to especially thank my wife Betty of 33 years, who joins me here today. As Johnny mentioned, her support and encouragement and advice, which I would suggest to you is virtually always correct, and her love means more to me than I could ever say.

Over the past few weeks, I've met with many of you individually and have gained a real appreciation for the passion that you have for the Department of Health and Human Services. Please know that I share that passion. That's why I'm here today and why I'm honored to be the nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services.

We all come to public service in our own unique ways that inform who we are and why we serve. My first professional calling was to care for patients. That experience as a physician and later as a legislator has provided a holistic view of the complex interactions that take place every day across our communities. And today, I hope to share with you how my experience has helped shape me and my understanding and appreciation for the work of the Department of Health and Human Services.

From an early age, I had an interest in medicine. My earliest memories are of growing up on a farm in the state of Michigan. We'd lived on a farm in Michigan before we moved to suburban Detroit when I was five- years-old. I spent most of my formative years being raised by a single mom. Some of my fondest memories are spending time with my grandfather, who was a physician. When I was young, we would go -- I would be able to go on -- spend some weekend with him and we'd go on rounds, which at that time, meant going on house calls. And so we'd drive up to houses and I was -- the memories that I have of individuals opening the door and giving him a hug and welcoming him graciously are cemented in my mind.

After graduating from medical school from the University of Michigan, I moved to Atlanta, which I've called home for nearly 40 years. That's where I met my wife, where we raised our son. I did my residency at Emory University and Grady Memorial Hospital, where I would later return in my career to serve as the medical director of the orthopedic clinic.

Throughout my professional career, I've treated patients in all walks of life, including so many children. And anyone who's ever treated a child knows the remarkable joy that you have when you're able to go tell the mom and dad that -- that we have helped, we have helped save an -- save their child or help their child back to healthfulness. My memories of Grady are filled with the gracious comments of parents and of patients for the team of health care specialists with whom I had the privilege of working.

After 25 years of school and training, I started a solo orthopedic practice. Over the years, this practice grew, as Senator Isakson mentioned, and eventually it became one of the largest non- academic orthopedic groups in the country, for which I would eventually serve as chairman of the board.

During 20 years as a practicing physician, I've learned a good bit about not just treating patients, but about the broader health care system and where it intersects with government. A couple of vivid memories stand out. One, many of my patients were never more irritated or angry when they recognized that there was somebody else in the exam room, not physically but -- but figuratively, who was getting between the doctor and the patient in making decisions, whether it was the insurance company, or government.

And then, there was the day when I noticed in my office, it was in the mid '90s when I realized that there were more individuals behind the door where the clinical work was going on seeing patients than there were in front of the door, and those folks were filling out forms and making certain that we were checking all the -- the boxes and -- and either challenging or -- or arguing with insurance companies or government about what was in the best interest of the patient. And it became clear to me that our health care system was losing focus on its number one priority, and that is the patient. As a result, I felt compelled to broaden my role in public service and help solve the issues harming the delivery of medicine. And so I ran for the Georgia state Senate.

I found the state Senate in Georgia to be often remarkably bipartisan and that collegial relationships were the norm. This is the environment in which I learned to legislate, reaching across the aisle to get work done.

PRICE: In Congress, I've been fortunate as well to be part of collaborations that broke through party lines to solve problems.


Just this past Congress, it was a bipartisan effort that succeeded in ridding Medicare of a broken physician payment system and which has now begun the creation of a new system, which if implemented properly, will help ensure that seniors have better access to higher quality care.

So if confirmed, my obligation will be to carry to the Department of Health and Human Services both an appreciation for bipartisan, team- driven policy-making, and what has been a lifetime commitment to improving the health and well being of the American people.

That commitment extends to what I call the six principles of health care: affordability, accessibility, quality, responsiveness, innovation and choices.

But Health and Human Services is more than health care. There are real heroes at this department doing incredible work to keep our food safe, to develop new drugs and treatment options driven by scientists conducting truly remarkable research. There are heroes among the talented, dedicated men and women working to provide critical social services, helping families and particularly children have a higher quality of living and the opportunity to rise up and achieve their American dream.

The role of Health and Human Services in improving lives means it must carry out its responsibilities with compassion. It also must be efficient and effective and accountable, as well as willing to work with those communities already doing incredible work on behalf of their citizens. Across the spectrum of issues and services that this department handles, there endures a promise that has been made to the American people. We must strengthen our resolve to keep the promises our society has made to our senior citizens and to those who are most in need of care and support.

That means saving and strengthening and securing Medicare for today's beneficiaries and future generations. It means ensuring that our nation's Medicaid population has access to the highest quality of care. It means maintaining and expanding America's leading role in medical innovation and the treatment and eradication of disease. I share your passion for these issues, having spent my life in service to them. And yet there's no doubt that we don't all agree on -- or share the same point of view when it comes to addressing every one of these issues. Our approaches to policies may differ, but surely -- surely there exists a common commitment to public service and to compassion for those that we serve.

We all hope that we can help improve the lives of the American people to help heal individuals and whole communities. So with a healthy dose of humility and an appreciation for the scope of the challenges before us, with your assistance and with God's will, we can make it happen. And I look forward to working with you to do just that.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Dr. Price.

We will now begin a round of seven-minute questions. And I will start the questioning.

If I could just talk about the Affordable Care Act and the health care system. My belief is that the historic mistake in passage of the Affordable Care Act was it sought to expand a system that already cost too much -- a health care system. What is our goal here, of those who want to repair the damage of Obamacare and replace parts of it? Is it to lower the cost of insurance for Americans? Is it to give them more choices of that lower-cost insurance? And is it to put more decisions in the hands of states and into the hands of patients?

PRICE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I think certainly the issues that you raise with choices and access and cost are at the heart and the center of where we ought to be putting our attention. As I mentioned in the six principles that I have for health care, affordability is incredibly important. It doesn't do you any good if you can't afford health coverage. Accessibility is absolutely imperative. If you have -- today, many folks have coverage, but they don't have care because they don't have access to the physicians that they'd like to see. So choices are absolutely vital.

ALEXANDER: Well, isn't one of the primary means for achieving those choices moving more health care decisions out of Washington, putting them back in the hands of states and patient consumers?

PRICE: I think in many instances, the closer that you can have those decisions to the patient, keeping the focus on the patient, the better.

ALEXANDER: And if the responsibilities are headed toward the states, or some responsibilities, would that not necessarily involve a fair amount of extensive consultation with governors and state insurance departments about how to do that and what the implementation schedule ought to be?

PRICE: Absolutely. Folks at the state level, as you well know having served there, know their populations better than we can know them.

ALEXANDER: Senator McConnell said last week that Obamacare would be replaced and repealed in manageable pieces. I want to suggest some pieces to you on a chart back here. It looks to me like there are four major areas where Americans get our health care insurance.


One is Medicare -- 18 percent of Americans. One is employer insurance -- 61 percent of Americans get their insurance on the job. One is Medicaid, and one is -- which is 22 percent -- and one is the individual market -- only six percent. And the exchanges we hear so much about are just four percent of that six percent, but that's where so much of the turmoil is.

Let me ask you this. Is this the bill -- any effort to replace and repeal Obamacare -- is this the bill to reform Medicare?

PRICE: Absolutely not.

ALEXANDER: So we would be focused on employer, Medicaid, and individual insurance. Do you -- are those accurate categories? Or would you categorize them in a different way?

PRICE: I think the challenges that we have to address immediately are those in the individual market and in the Medicaid market, as you identified.

ALEXANDER: And is it possible to work on one of those areas at a time, rather than in a comprehensive -- or let me put it this way. I said don't expect Senator McConnell to wheel in a wheelbarrow with a big, comprehensive Republican health care plan. That's because in my opinion, we don't believe in that. We don't believe in replacing a failed Washington, D.C. health care plan with our own failed plan.

We want to work on it step by step, large piece by piece. Is that a -- how do you respond to that?

PRICE: I think -- I think that's fair. I think that for individuals to -- the American people need to appreciate that the last thing we want to do is go from a Democrat health care system to a Republican health care system. Our goal would be to go from what we see as a Democrat health care system to an American health care system that recognizes the needs of all.

ALEXANDER: Now, I know your plan won't be presented until after you're confirmed. But the president-elect has said "let's do repeal and replace simultaneously." To me, that must mean that -- that any repeal of parts of Obamacare wouldn't take effect until after some concrete, practical alternatives were in place for Americans to choose. Is that accurate? Or do you have a different idea of what "simultaneous" might mean or what the sequencing might be as we move through this process?

PRICE: I think that -- I think that's fair. I think one of the important things that we need to convey to the American people is that nobody -- nobody's interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody. 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 that they want for themselves and for their families. So I think there's been a lot of talk about -- about individuals losing health coverage. That is not our goal nor is it our desire, nor is it our plan.

ALEXANDER: Let me ask you about how long this might all take -- this repairing the damage, this working on these three big areas: individual market, Medicaid, and employer. My sense of it is that we've been working on this so long, although we have different opinions about it. We ought to be able to make most of our votes in the next few months about what to do. But that the implementation of whatever we decide, especially since it will be going, some of it, back to the states, to the department that you hope to lead, might take several years.

Is there a difference between the votes we might take and then a longer time for implementation of what we decide to do?

PRICE: I think that's fair. I would point out that our health care system is continually evolving and should. We ought to be always looking at how it's working, whether it's working for patients, whether it's working for the individuals that are -- that are working to provide the -- the highest quality care for folks. And when it is, that's fine. When it isn't, then it's incumbent upon -- on policy makers to make certain that we do the kinds of things to adjust that policy so that it can work, especially for patients.

ALEXANDER: My last question is about this individual market, the six percent. The Obamacare exchanges are about four percent of all of us who have insurance. Our insurance commissioner in Tennessee says the market is virtually collapsing. I am told by many people that we need to basically have a rescue plan, a reform for the individual market in place by March the first so that insurance companies who make their decisions about the year 2018 can make those plans so that people have insurance to buy in all of these states.

Do you agree that the market is collapsing, that we need a rescue plan and that March 1st is an important approximate date for a decision of action?

PRICE: Well, we're clearly seeing changes in the individual and small group market that are adverse to the -- to the patient, whether it's decreasing access to -- to coverage, whether it's increasing premiums, whether it's higher deductibles, something is -- is going badly wrong out there and it's imperative, I believe, for us to recognize that and then to put in place the kinds of solutions that we believe to be most appropriate.

ALEXANDER: And your plan that we're likely to see in February will include recommendations for how to do that?

PRICE: We look forward to -- should I be given the honor of -- of leading the Health and Human Services, along with the president (sic), we look forward to working with Congress to come forward with that plan.

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Dr. Price.

Senator Murray?

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Before I start, I want to ask consent to put a letter to Chairman Alexander from all 11 Democrats on this committee on the importance of a second round of questions on this nominee and I ask unanimous consent to put in the record 25 letters signed by 193 organizations opposing Congressman Price's nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and I also have a petition signed by 500,000 people from across the country opposing this nomination. I ask to put it in the record.

ALEXANDER: It will be.

MURRAY: Congressman Price, recent press reports about your investments in the Australian biotech company Innate Immunotherapeutics, a company working to develop new drugs, on four separate occasions between January 2015 and August 2016.


You made the decision to purchase that stock, not a broker, yes or no?

PRICE: That was a decision that I made, yes.

MURRAY: You were offered an opportunity to purchase stock at a lower price than was available to the general public, yes or no?

PRICE: The initial purchase in January of 2015 was at the market price. The secondary purchase in June through August, September of 2016 was at a price that was available to individuals who were participating in a private placement offering.

MURRAY: It was lower than was available to the general public, correct?

PRICE: I don't know that it was. It was -- it was the same price that everybody paid for the private placement offering.

MURRAY: Well, Congressman Chris Collins who sits on President- elect Trump's transition team, is both an investor and a board member of the company. He was reportedly overheard just last week off the House floor bragging about how he had made people millionaires from a stock tip.

Congressman Price, in our meeting, you informed me that you made these purchases based on conversations with Representative Collins. Is that correct?

PRICE: No. What I...

MURRAY: That is what you said to me in my office. PRICE: What I believe I said to you was that I learned of the company from Congressman Collins.

MURRAY: What I recall our conversation was that you had a conversation with Collins and then decided to purchase the stock.

PRICE: No, that's not correct.

MURRAY: Well, that is what I remember you hearing it -- saying in my office. In that conversation, did Representative Collins tell you anything that could be considered quote, "a stock tip", yes or no?

PRICE: I don't believe so, no.

MURRAY: Well if -- if you're telling me he gave you information about a company, you were offered shares in the company at prices not available to the public, you bought those shares. Is that not a stock tip?

PRICE: That's not happened. What happened was that he mentioned, he -- he talked about the company and the work that they were doing in trying to solve the challenge of progressive secondary multiple sclerosis, which is a very debilitating disease and one that I...

MURRAY: I'm well aware of that, but...

PRICE: ... had the opportunity to treat patients when I was in practice.

MURRAY: I'm aware of...

PRICE: I studied the company for a period of time and felt that it had some significant merit and promise and purchased the initial shares on the stock exchange itself.

MURRAY: Congressman Price, I have very limited time. Let me go on.

Your purchases occurred while the 21st Century Cures Act, which had several provisions, could -- that could impact drug developers like Innate Immunotherapeutics was being negotiated, and again, just days before you were notified to prepare for a final vote on the bill. Congressman, do you believe it is appropriate for a senior member of Congress actively involved in policy making in the health sector to repeatedly personally invest in a drug company that could benefit from those actions, yes or no?

PRICE: Well, that's not what happened.

MURRAY: Well, let me just say that I believe it's inappropriate and we need answers to this regarding whether you and Congressman Collins used your access to non-public information when you bought prices -- bought at prices that were unavailable to the public.

PRICE: I had no access to non-public information.

MURRAY: Well, we -- we will go on. Congressman Price, just last week, you and Republicans in Congress voted to begin ripping apart our health care system, which would cause nearly 30 million people to lose their coverage and raise health care costs for families without telling the American people specifically what you plan to do instead. President-elect Trump and Republicans in Congress have promised to deliver a plan that prevents anyone from losing coverage and leaves no one worse off.

Just days ago, President-elect Trump said his plan would provide insurance for everybody.


Do you share those goals?

PRICE: I think it's absolutely imperative that we make -- have a system in place that has patients at the center and allows for every single American to have the opportunity to gain access to the kind of coverage...

MURRAY: You share -- you share his goal of insurance for everybody?

PRICE: That's been always my stated goal. It's what we've worked on throughout my entire public career.

MURRAY: OK. If your repeal plan, the Empowering Patients First Act, was signed into law, would you consider these commitments to ensure all Americans and leave no and worse off be met?

PRICE: The -- the goal of the bills that I've worked on here in Congress and understanding that the role if I'm given the privilege of leading at HHS...

MURRAY: I'm asking about your...


PRICE: But my -- but my role in -- in Congress was to always make certain that individuals have the opportunity to gain access to the kind of coverage that they -- that they desired and that they had the financial feasibility to do so.


PRICE: That's what's different about the plans that we put forward.

MURRAY: All right. Well, I think it's really important that we have clear answers. So let me just say this, your bill only allows people with preexisting conditions to obtain health insurance if they maintained continuous insurance for 18 months prior. Millions of Americans with preexisting health conditions lack insurance for short periods of time.

Under your plan, insurance companies could deny those Americans coverage for preexisting conditions, yes or no, under your bill? PRICE: It's a broader question than that because we would put in place high risk pools and individual health pools that would allow every single person in the individual small group market who are the ones challenged with preexisting illness to be able to gain access, again, to the coverage that they want.

So we believe, through that plan, that every single person would have the opportunity and financial feasibly to gain the coverage that they want for themselves and for their families.

MURRAY: Well, I think -- I think we -- we disagree on the consequences of that. Your bill would also -- your bill would repeal dependent coverage available to young adults up to age 26, that is correct, right?

PRICE: The bill that I authored did not include coverage up to age 26. The insurance companies have said that they were working that, that they were including that in their -- in their plans going forward. And so we felt that was covered.

MURRAY: OK. And -- and your bill takes away current benefits, which include prescription drugs, mental health and substance use disorder benefits and maternity coverage among others. That is correct, right?

PRICE: Again, it's different in the legislative arena than it is in the administrative arena. But there are other factors that we would put in place that would make certain that individuals have the care and the kind of coverage that they needed for whatever diagnoses would befall them.

MURRAY: Again, I disagree with the consequences, but your bill didn't cover that. Your bill also repeals the lifetime limits on coverage that helps a lot of people who are sick and have high medical expenses, like a person with cancer, yes or no?

PRICE: Again, it's a larger question because what we would put is a different construct in place that would allow for every single person to gain access to the coverage that they want and have nobody fall through the cracks.

MURRAY: Well, I -- I think just with these questions, I am very concerned that your vision for a health care system is very different than one that I think millions of Americans are counting on.

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Murray.

Senator Enzi?

SEN. MICHAEL ENZI (R), WYOMING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you, Dr. Price, for being willing to serve and to go through this process. I call this gotcha (ph) management. Nothing is -- is barred and the idea is to get you to take questions on short notice in public that you wouldn't have done what you normally do.

I've -- I've worked with you for the last two years, meeting with you at least once a week every week that we've been in session. So I know how you operate and I appreciate how you operate and the care and the focus and the concern and how comprehensively you think about particularly the medical things.

One of my concerns is always the rural areas because Wyoming is the most rural state in -- in the nation. I hesitate to do that because last night at the Education hearing, I got to hear from Ms. DeVos, who remembered a conversation from a month before that I had on a rural problem, which dealt with grizzly bears by the Wapiti school in Wyoming. And that became a major topic around here. And -- and I'm glad everybody recognizes that -- that need and concern.

Now, part of the story was that's the grade school that former Senator Craig Thomas went to. And when he was there, they didn't need that fence because he was tough.

But there are different kinds of problems in different places in the health care area. I have a county that's the size of Delaware. It has one community that would like to say that it has 2,500 people. It does have a hospital.


But when you have a rural community, a rural county that big with that small of a town, it's difficult to keep a doctor without at least a P.A. there, the hospital has to close. And if that hospital closes, emergency care is 80 miles away.