Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance will convene a nomination hearing for Congressman Tom Price, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As the Committee that oversees Medicare, it’s essential that this hearing delve into the Congressman’s long held positions on the program, and particularly on any stance that forces people with Medicare to pay even higher health care costs.
The individual appointed as HHS Secretary has a profound impact on the lives of older Americans, people with disabilities, and their families. It’s critical that Congressman Price establish himself as a champion for people with Medicare, and especially for the more than 25 million seniors and people with disabilities living on incomes of less than $24,150 per year.
Congressman Price has consistently advanced proposals that would fundamentally alter the Medicare program, describing them as “patient-centered solutions” that “provide seniors with more choices” while offering little information on how such proposals would actually work. For the families who rely on Medicare for their health and financial security, this vague rhetoric falls short.
People with Medicare and the hard-working Americans now paying into the program deserve more than platitudes. They deserve to know what Congressman Price’s prescription for Medicare really means — both for the healthcare they now or will someday need and for their pocket books.
So, it’s important that today’s hearing supplies answers to at least three questions for him:
1. As HHS Secretary, will you continue to advance policies that may lead people with Medicare to forgo needed medical care?
As a Congressman, you introduced a bill to permit Medicare providers to negotiate contracts with their patients to determine the cost of their care. This proposal effectively undoes policies intended to prevent overcharging and balance billing, which previously led to excess charges and caused seniors to go without needed care.
2. As HHS Secretary, will you stand by the President’s promise not to cut Medicare?
As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, you endorsed Medicare premium support (or vouchers). Estimates consistently confirm that premium support is likely to increase costs for some — if not most — people with Medicare. According to President Trump, however, “[Medicare] is actually a program that works great,” and throughout his campaign he vowed no cuts.
3. As HHS Secretary, will you continue to endorse policies that shift higher healthcare costs to seniors, to employers, and to states?
Along with premium support, you consistently supported proposals to increase the Medicare age from 65 to 67. This proposal creates federal savings through cost shifting to individuals, employers, and states, because these individuals would be required to continue with their individual plans (if still available), employer-provided plans, or state Medicaid coverage. This cost shifting would be especially hard on people ages 65 to 67 living on fixed incomes.
Anyone considered for the honor to serve as our nation’s HHS Secretary should clearly explain where he or she stands on healthcare policy. American families need to know how Congressman Price’s record would translate into his role overseeing Medicare. For starters, they need to know if he intends to keep President Trump’s repeated promise to “Save Medicare…without cuts.”
Joe Baker is president of the Medicare Rights Center (Medicare Rights), a national, nonprofit consumer service and advocacy organization. To explain key Medicare proposals endorsed by Congressman Price and other lawmakers, Medicare Rights launched its own interactive platform for learning and dialogue: Protecting and Strengthening Medicare.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.