US congressional leaders have started the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with no new plan on the table, leaving the future of American health care uncertain. In a Jan. 18 Senate confirmation hearing for his proposed position as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price did little to quell those anxieties.
The Republican representative from Georgia sat before the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which, unsurprisingly, grilled Price on what he planned to do for the 32 million predicted to become uninsured by 2026 if the ACA is repealed.
“Do you believe that health care is a right of all Americans, whether they are rich or poor?” asked Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont. “Should people, because they are Americans, be able to go to the doctor when they need to?”
Price started to answer by saying that America is a “compassionate society,” Sanders interrupted. “We are not a compassionate society,” he said. “Our record is worse than any country on Earth in relation to poor and working people.”
Already, Americans spend more on health care than Germans, Turks, and Canadians, to name a few—and don’t live any longer for it. Even under the ACA, almost 30 million Americans don’t have coverage (before the Act went into effect, an additional 13 to 20 million didn’t have insurance). Additionally, the US is one of the few countries where governments don’t negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to set drug prices. This means that American drug prices surge as pharmaceutical companies see fit all the time.
Price has been extremely vocal about repealing the ACA, and has even gone so far as to author his own 240-page plan called Empowering Patients First while serving in Congress. As Vox has reported, Price’s plan would provide better health care options for people who are already healthy, wealthy, and young—while denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions who have not maintained continuous health care coverage throughout their lives.
There’s no guarantee that Patients First will be the first health plan scheme put up for debate as an ACA replacement, and during his hearing, Price dodged questions about any specific plans. Although Price told Sanders he wanted to “work with [him] and others to assure drug pricing is reasonable,” he did not provide any details how. He did say he wants to put into place a system that would “give every person the financial feasibility to purchase the coverage they want to for themselves and their family, not what the government forces them to buy.” At that point, Sanders’ time for questions was up.
Wednesday’s hearing was Price’s first of two. Ultimately, the Senate Finance Committee is responsible for actually confirming Price. This hearing will occur on Jan. 24 at 10am ET.