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HHS Confirmation Hearing for Dr. Tom Price. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 24, 2017 - 10:00   ET




GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Is it Republicans or the President of the United States?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER SPOKESWOMAN FOR BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN: Both. I would venture to say. Look, I think the difference here is, one, yes, Republicans are being hypocritical. But two, the Obama White House was a very risk averse White House. You know, if you had any real issues, they were really quick to say, hands off, we're not going to touch it. The difference is the Trump administration, -- clearly does not care about risk aversion. They are very in your face. We're just going to do this.

And so, I definitely think it's incumbent upon the Democrats on that Senate committee that we're going to hear in just a little bit to ask very, very, very good questions. Look, we're only as good as our research. And then, the Republicans are going to have to make a decision. Again, I think they're still going to confirm him, but the Democrats have to make it tough for Tom Price.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The Congress argument, also, just -- to represent probably what the Trump White House is thinking, is that Donald Trump is a loyal guy. And maybe they would say Barack Obama should have been more loyal to Tom Daschle. And President Trump is going to be loyal to Tom Price.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPODENT: And that they fundamentally believe, to your point, that Tom Price is the best person for this job, since he has spent - he has spent so many years in Congress, thinking about the policy change, if they ever had the chance to repeal Obamacare.

BORGER: They want someone who understands what needs to be done. And he has been there. You also have Susan Collins, has proposed a new plan to deal with the repeal and replace part of it. So, look, they're going to stick by Tom Price. But these are not minor questions that have been raised. - And the question is whether you have to believe that he made a mistake in good faith, or whether he omitted in bad faith.

BASH: We'll hopefully hear that. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: These are live pictures coming in from the Senate Finance Committee. We're going to hear shortly from the Chairman Orrin Hatch and the Ranking Member Ron Wyden. They will be opening up the arguments, pro and con, presumably, for Dr. Tom Price, the congressman nominated to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services. We're going to be hearing a lot about Obamacare, the future of Obamacare, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us, as well. Last week, we did see an initial step taken by President Trump, maybe symbolic, maybe more than that. Not necessarily formally repealing and certainly not replacing, but a step moving in that direction. And there's deep concern out there, Sanjay, as you know, among those maybe 20 million people who have health insurance now thanks to Obamacare, what's going to be the future for them?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt. And the last time we were all together talking about this, that Executive Order had not been issued. Trump was not president yet. He was still president-elect. So, in some ways, Congressman Price was sort of insulated from some of the specifics regarding the plans, because he hadn't -- there was nothing specific to sort of dive into.

But now, as you point out, he does have to sort of explain what this Executive Order really means. And also, you know this idea that even among the medical community, there's not a lot of people who say, I absolutely love the Affordable Care Act. That only gets about 3.5 percent of health care people giving it an A grade. But they also realize that it has a tremendous amount of institutional inertia, and no matter what you do, even if I agree with a potential replacement plan, that transition period is going to be tough.

It's going to be tough for hospitals. It's going to be tough for physicians, for the entire industry, overall. And even if you say I'm going to repeal and replace at the same time, which you're probably expecting to hear from him today, there is a transition period for that replacement, setting up those high-risk pools, allowing insurers to go into other states. That doesn't happen overnight. That takes a lot of time. So, even if it's in language, saying replacement is happening now, the reality for the health care industry is something very different.

BLITZER: There's going to be a huge debate, and we'll see it unfold to a certain degree during the course of this hearing right now, but realistically, Sanjay, repealing and replacing, the Republicans have the votes to do it. What kind of timeline are we talking about? I've heard various estimates, a year, two years, three years, what are you hearing?

GUPTA: Well, I think, you know, in order to - there are sort of two components to it. First of all, you've got to reverse many of the things that are already in place. And some of those things, like you know, look, even us as individuals set up -- you went through your enrollment period at the end of last year to sign up for your health care insurance for this year, for people who have employer-based health care, in particular. That's you know, that's a year down the line that those -- a lot of that's been set in place. Hospitals are going to count on getting the moneys that they're expected throughout 2017. So, at least a year, 18 months at a minimum, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right guys. Senator Orrin Hatch has brought this committee -- has opened the committee. He's speaking right now. He's the chairman. Let's listen in.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH, CHAIRMAN OF THE SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE: Not to put too fine a point on it, but we're right, and the next HHS Secretary will play a pivotal role as we work to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered reforms that will actually address costs, among other things.


This will be an important endeavor, one that will and should get a lot of attention here today, but it should not be the sole focus of the next HHS secretary.

HHS has an annual budget of well over $1 trillion. Let me repeat that, one department, $1 trillion. HHS encompasses the centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and Drug Administration and many others.

It's no exaggeration to say that HHS touches more of the U.S. economy and effects the daily lives of more Americans than any other part of the U.S. government. I firmly believe that Dr. Price has the experience and qualifications necessary to effectively lead this large and diverse set of agencies and many people share that view.

He's had a tremendous experience -- a wealth of experience in the practice of medicine, understands these problems and has been a great member of the House of Representatives. For example, past HHS Secretaries Mike Leavitt and Tommy Thompson strongly support his nomination. Physician organizations that know Dr. Price's work, including the American Medical Association and most surgical specialty groups, enthusiastically support him. The American Hospital Association and other health care stakeholder groups do as well.

Perhaps the Healthcare Leadership Council representing the broad swath of health care providers said it best in stating that quote, "It is difficult to imagine anyone more capable of serving this nation as the secretary of HHS than Congressman Tom Price." unquote. Unfortunately, in the current political environment, qualifications, experience and endorsements from experts in key stakeholders, sometimes don't seem to matter to some of our colleagues.

At least that appears to be the case, as none of those who say they oppose Dr. Price's nomination seem to be talking about whether he is qualified. Instead we've heard grossly exaggerated and distorted attacks on his views and his ethics. On top of that, we've heard complaints and a series of unreasonable demands regarding the confirmation process itself. Of course, these tactics haven't been limited to Dr. Price. My Democratic friends have taken these -- or taken this approach -- approach with almost all of President Trump's cabinet nominees. As Senate Democrat's unprecedented efforts to delay and derail the confirmation process and apply a radically new set of confirmation standards has continued unabated. To that point, let me say this. I've been in the Senate for 40 years, and I think my record for being willing to reach across the aisle is beyond any reasonable dispute, and I've certainly done it with my fellow Democrats here on -- on this committee. In fact, from time to time, I've taken lumps in some conservative circles for working closely with my Democratic colleagues.

I have on some occasions voted against confirming executive branch nominees, but far more often than -- than not, I've opted to defer to the occupants of the White House and allowed them to choose in their administrations. I've taken some lumps for that too.

I'm not bringing any of this up to brag or to solicit praise from anyone in the audience. I raise all of this today so that people can know I'm serious when I say, that I'm worried about what my colleagues on the minority side are doing to the Senate as an institution. While the overriding sense of comedy and courtesy among Senators has admittedly been in decline in recent years, I have never seen this level of partisan ranker when it comes to -- to dealing with the president from an opposing party.

I have never seen a party in the Senate from it's leaders on down, publicly commit to not only opposing virtually every nomination, but to attacking and maligning virtually every single nominee.

Now let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that the Senate start rubber stamping nominees. Nor am I suggesting that any member of the Senate should vote against their conscience or preferences, simply out of respect for tradition or difference. What I am saying is that the same rules, process, courtesies and assumptions of good faith, that have long been the hallmark of the Senate confirmation process, especially in this committee, should continue to apply regardless of who is president.

If what we're seeing now is the new normal for every time control of the White House changes hands, the Senate, quite frankly, will be a much lesser institution.


Unfortunately, our committee has not been entirely immune to the hyper-politicization of the nomination process. We saw that last week with the Mnuchin hearing. And I regret to say that I think we're likely to see more of it today, I hope not.

Case and point, I expect that during today's hearing, we're going to hear quite a bit about process and claims that Dr. Price's nomination is being rushed and that the nominee hasn't been fully vetted. These allegations are simply untrue. President Trump announced his intent to nominate Dr. Price just three weeks after the election. Dr. Price submitted the required tax returns and completed questionnaire on December 21st. That was 35 days ago, and by any reasonable standard, that has -- that has -- that is sufficient time for a full and fair examination of the nominee's record and disclosures.

By comparison, the committee held a hearing on the nomination of Secretary Sebelius, the Democrat nominee, 16 days after she submitted her paperwork. For Secretary Burwell, it was 17 days. In other words, the time between the completion of Dr. Price's file and his hearing has been more than that and more than that of the last two nominees -- HHS secretaries combined.

And by the way, both of those nominees received at least a few Republican votes on this committee and on the floor.

Outside of extraordinary process demands, Dr. Price has faced a number of unfair attacks on both his record as a legislator and his finances. On the questions surrounding finances, I'll defer on any substantive discussion and first allow Dr. Price to defend himself from what are by and large specious and distorted attacks.

For now, I'll just say that I hope that my colleagues don't invent new standards for finances, ethics and disclosure that are different from those that have generally applied in the past. There is a saying involving both stones and glass houses that might be applicable as well.

With regard to Dr. Price's views and voting record, I'll simply say that virtually all of the attempts I've witnessed to characterize Dr. Price's views as being quote, "outside of the mainstream," unquote, have been patently absurd. Unless, of course, the only ideas that are in the quote, "mainstream," unquote are those that endorse the status quo on health care and our entitlement programs.

In conclusion, I just want to note that the overly partisan treatment of nominees and distortions of their records is a relatively new development on this committee. My hope is that we can begin to set a new standard here that we can all be proud of and that will work to reverse the recent trends and have a fair and open discussion of the nominee and his qualifications.

So with that, I'll turn to our distinguished ranking member, Senator Wyden.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Colleagues, the American public has heard many promises about health care from the administration; no cuts to Medicare or Medicaid, nobody hurt by ACA repeal, insurance for everybody, much less expensive, much better. Congressman Price's own record undercuts these promises.

I'm going to start with ethics and undisclosed assets. Congressman Price owns stock in an Australian biomedical firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics. His first stock purchase came in 2015 after consulting Representative Chris Collins, the company's top shareholder and a member of its board. In 2016, the congressman was invited to participate in a special stock sale called a private placement. The company offered the private placement to raise funds for testing on an experimental treatment it intends to put up for FDA approval.

Through this private placement, the congressman increased his stake in the company more than 500 percent. He has said he was unaware he paid a price below market value. It is hard to see how this claim passes the smell test. Company filings with the Australia Stock Exchange clearly state that this specific private placement would be made at below market prices.


The Treasury Department Handbook on Private Placements states, and I will quote, "They are offered only to sophisticated investors in a non-public manor." The Congressman also said last week, he directed the stock purchase himself, departing from what he said was typical practice.

Then there's the matter of what was omitted from the Congressman's notarized disclosers. The congressman's stake in Innate is more than five times larger than the figure he reported to ethics officials when he became a nominee. He disclosed owning less than $50,000 of Innate stock. At the time the disclosure was filed, by my calculation, his shares had a value of more than $250,000.

Today his stake is valued at more than a half million dollars. Based on the math, it appears that the private placement was excluded entirely from the Congressman's financial disclosure. This company's fortunes could be affected directly by legislation and treaties that come before the Congress. It also appears the Congressman failed to consult the Health Ethics Committee, following other trades of health care stocks.

That was required as they're directly related to two bills he introduced and promoted. Even if some of those trades were not made at his direction, he would have been made aware of them when he filed his periodic transactions reports with the House of Representatives. Set aside the legal issues, it is hard to see this as anything, but a conflict of interest and an abuse of position.

Another key question on the Finance Committee's biographical questionnaire is whether nominees have been investigated for ethics violations. The Congressman's been the subject of two investigations stemming from fund-raising practices. This too was not disclosed. The committee needs to look into these matters before moving the nomination forward.

Now to policy. On the Affordable Care Act specifically and the scheme known as repeal and run. The secret replacement plan is still hidden, but already the administration charges ahead with a broad executive order that endangers American's health. As the budget chairman, Congressman Price, is the architect of repeal and run.

If his repeal bill became law, 18 million American's lose their health care in less than two years. In one decade you go from 26 million uninsured to 59 million. Repeal and run raises premiums 50 percent in less than two years. Cost skyrocket from there, the market for individuals to buy health insurance collapses. No cost contraceptive coverage for millions of women, gone.

By defunding Planned Parenthood, nearly 400,000 women would lose access to care almost immediately. Hundreds thousands more would lose their opportunity to see the doctor they trust. The Price plan takes American back to the dark days when health care was for the healthy and the wealthy.

His other proposals don't offer much hope that the damage will be undone. There's a big gap between the Trump pledge of insurance for everybody and great health care and the Congressman's proposals. In another bill, the Empowering Patients First Act, the Congressman brings back discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions such as pregnancy or heart disease. Insurers get the power to deny care and raise costs on those with pre-existing conditions if they didn't maintain coverage.

In effect, the bill said insurance companies could take patients' money and skip out on paying for the care they need. The Price bill also gives insurers the OK to reinstate lifetime limits on coverage and charge women higher rates because they're women. It gutted the tax benefits that help working people afford high quality coverage. It slashed minimum standards that protect patients by defining exactly what health plans have to cover.

All this from a bill called Empowering Patients First.


I've see a lot of bills ironic title -- with ironic titles, this one colleagues, takes the cake. Here's the constant, the Congressman's proposals push new costs on the patients. Massive cuts to Medicare were proposed in the price budget, another example.

In my view, the Congress has a duty to uphold the promise of Medicare, it's a promise of guaranteed benefits. The congressman advocated privatizing Medicare, cutting it almost to half trillion dollars. After his nomination, he said he wanted to turn the program into one with vouchers with the first six to eight months of the administration.

He supports balanced billing, so seniors would have to cover extra charges beyond what Medicare pays when they go to the doctor. More extra costs for seniors on a tight budget. In addition, the congressman calls for block granting and capping Medicaid, which would shred a vital safety net for our most vulnerable.

Medicaid ensures 74 million people. More Americans rely on Medicaid to pay for nursing home care and home-based care than any other program. The program pays for nearly half of all births and covers millions of children. It's a critical source of mental health coverage and substance abuse treatment; vital at a time when our communities are battling the opioid epidemic.

I'll close with just two additional points. If confirmed, the head of HHS, the Health and Human Services Department, is the captain of the Trump health care team. Now, the congressman says patients should be at the center of care. I agree with that. When I look, however, at the congressman's proposals, I don't see the patient at the center of health care, I see money and I see special interests at the center of health care.

Now, finally, let me just make a point with respect to the process and the comments of my good friend, Chairman Hatch. Colleagues, the process here is exactly the same process, to a tee, that this committee has used for 20 years. It is the process that applied, for example, to Tom Daschle. It applied to Ron Kirk. I will enter into the record a specific set of details about how this is the process that is exactly what was done on a bipartisan basis for 20 years and I will make that part of the record.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HATCH: Thank you, Senator. I'm pleased to hand over the introduction -- my normal witness introduction duties today to our colleague, the distinguished senator from Georgia, Senator Isakson, who will introduce Dr. Price.

And so, Senator Isakson, please proceed.

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R),GEORGIA: Well, thank you, Chairman Hatch and Vice Chairman Wyden and members of the committee -- fellow members of the committee. I'm proud to have a seat right up there on this committee and enjoy being a part of it.

I couldn't be prouder than to introduce Tom Price to you today. This is the second time I've had the case (ph) to introduce Tom in the last week. The first time I was called, it was to introduce him at the Health Committee, which I also serve on and I was proud to do that. And I gave what I hope was the best introduction I could possibly give, based on a man that I've known for 30 years. Known him (ph) as a family man, as a legislator, as a member of our community, as a great physician and a great friend. It was easy to do that one.

But since that last week, things have changed. I feel like I've been asked to be a character witness in a felony trial in the sentencing phase of a conviction. There are things that have been said the last week or so just, to me, need to be refuted, so I'm going to take all the positive things and say them at the end. But try and begin by saying there are a few things out there that need a perspective all the way around.

I'm very proud that Tom has filed his income tax returns. A couple of things that the (ph) ranking member mentioned came from those showings. Some of the things that came out in a memo last night about property taxes -- those were de minimis items that came out. One -- one late tax payment in Nashville, Tennessee; one late tax payment in Washington, D.C. Late, not unpaid. Just late, and I've done that myself a couple of times.

On -- on Innate Immunotherapeutics, that was a disclosure that he made. And the valuation difference on a private placement is a normal thing. It's an eyes of the beholder placement in terms of what you assess it at. And this was merely an assessment as to what you disclosed in terms of its worth, not whether or not you disclosed it or not.

Tom's a good man. He's a family man, he's a physician, he's an honorable man. And I'm proud to be here today not to defend him, because he doesn't need defending, but to praise him for the things that he's done.

ISAKSON: You know, I think it's important for all of us to look at a secretary nomination, whether it's secretary of defense, whether it's Health and Human Services.


What am I really looking forward -- from in terms of this person?

Well, first and foremost, I'm looking for a person that understand the American family. Tom is a great family man. In fact, his wife, Betty -- if you would raise your hand, Betty. Last week, I told her to stand up and she was in a crowd and I couldn't get her to do it, so I'm going to get her to raise her hand this time around.

Betty's a great lady and a great wife. Their son, Robert, I guess is still in Nashville, Tennessee singing country music, is that right? So he couldn't be here today, but Lamar Alexander appreciates that part very well. Tom's active in his church, active in his community, understands the needs of families and understands the relationship of health care to a good family.

Secondly, who would I ask to spend $1.1 trillion of my money? I don't have that much, of course, but that's how much Tom will oversee at HHS. What I would look for in a person to handle that much money? I look for a little bit of experience, and Tom's got it, in terms of a legislator. I look for somebody who understood where that cost was going and what he needed to do to manage it, and Tom's that type of person. I'd look for somebody I would trust with that amount of money, even though I don't have it, but if it were mine.

Third, does he understand health care? Let me tell you a little bit about Tom and his medicine practice -- medical practice. It's called Resurgens Orthopaedics. Resurgens Orthopaedics is the consolidation of a number of small orthopedic firms around the state of Georgia into the largest orthopedic provider in our state. Tom was one of the leading persons that pulled that together, and in fact, was ran the -- ran the practice for a while himself.

They're my doctors. In fact, 26 years ago, Resurgens saved my young son Kevin's right leg in a terrible automobile accident and I've never forgotten what they did for him in a terrible crisis that we had in our family. But they're a great medical firm, he understands medicine and he has run a comprehensive medical program.

Third, I'd want to understand if he knew the -- fourth, I'd want to understand if he knew the legislative process. You know, when the president calls Tom in and says OK, we're going to go to the Senate and the House and we're going to sell our package, Tom's got to have the ability to convince 535 people that the president's right or that the administration's right. You don't want somebody going out there who hadn't walked into a legislative meeting before, somebody who hadn't been in the political process before. Tom has been there and done that. He's the type of guy you can trust to make the sale and represent the administration and the people.

Fifth, I'd want somebody who's accountable. Tom's an accountable type of guy. In fact, I joked last week and said he's one of those rare ones of us that actually reads the bills. In fact, when I have a big question, I usually come talk to Tom late at night. I say, "Tom, what do you know about H resolution 3742?" And he'll tell me.

He's not exciting. He's sometimes boring, but he's always right because he's always prepared. But he understands you need to be accountable in this business, you need to be responsible for what you do and responsible for what you say.

Now, there's a rumor that's going around by some people that Tom doesn't support the saving of Social Security. Let me tell you a little story. A few weeks ago -- in fact, at the end of the campaign in October -- I was called by AARP and Tom was called by AARP. They said will you two go on the road for us and do presentations around the state in your congressional districts about how you're going to save Social Security?

And in -- I guess it was Alpharetta, Georgia was the first place -- Tom and I went one night and spent the whole night before a room full seniors defending saving Social Security. So anybody that's passing that rumor around, a, go ask AARP who's going to save Social Security. Go ask the people who are active in that business who's going to do it.

Tom Price understands the value of Social Security and the value of Medicare, and being eligible for both, I wouldn't be up here promoting somebody who's going to take it away from me, I guarantee you that.

Let me tell you one other thing. Four years ago, I sat in this committee -- in our committee room and in the Health Committee -- and I (inaudible) questions and I asked all that I could of Sylvia Burwell and when the time came time for a vote, I voted for her because she was the right person at the right time for the administration to put in head of labor HHS.

Dr. Tom Price is the right man at the right time for the right job. He is my friend. He's a man I've known for 30 years. He has unquestioned character and unquestioned ability and he will be a great secretary of HHS. I thank all of you for taking calls earlier, when I called before this meeting, urged you to give him the courtesy of your time to listen to what he's got to say, ask your thorough questions and I hope you'll see fit to nominate a honorable man, an accountable man and a good man to be the next secretary of Labor Health and Human Services.

And I yield back, Mr. Chairman.

HATCH: Well, thank you, Senator Isakson. I'll tell you, Tom, you couldn't have a better introducer than Senator Isakson. He's not only highly respected by all of us in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, but he's very, very articulate as you can see and I think he did a very good job talking about you and your future here in this committee.

Now, I have some obligatory questions for the nominee. First, is there anything that you are aware of in your background that might present a conflict of interest with the duties of the office to which you have been nominated?


PRICE: I do not.