Trump nominee defends access to healthcare

Washington, Jan 19 (IANS) US President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services has defended creating a system that allows “access” to health insurance for everyone.

In his first Senate confirmation hearing, Georgia congressman Tom Price on Wednesday emphasised that the Republicans’ plan to dismantle President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform would not take coverage away from anyone, saying that it is “imperative” that people be able to keep their insurance, Efe news reported.

However, Price, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, did not back Trump’s recent promise “to insure everybody”, supporting instead a system that offers people the opportunity to acquire coverage without guaranteeing it to them.

Price on Wednesday faced tough questioning from Democratic senators before the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions (HELP) Committee, especially with regard to how the Trump administration intends to replace Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In his opening remarks, the congressmen tried to defuse partisan tensions over the Republican promise to eliminate the current healthcare law and invoked his experience as a physician and specialist committed to accessible healthcare.

“We all want a healthcare system that’s affordable, that’s accessible to all, of the highest quality, with the greatest number of choices, driven by world-leading innovations and responsive to the needs of the individual patient,” said Price.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders asked Price if the Trump administration is ready to abide by the magnate’s statements during the campaign not to cut funds for Social Security services, Medicaid and Medicare, which provide healthcare access to the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

Price answered cautiously that he had no reason to think that has changed, although he acknowledged that he had not discussed the matter with the New York billionaire.

Sen. Patty Murray, who has the most seniority among Democrats on the HELP Committee, unleashed a tough series of questions about conservatives’ plans to replace the current healthcare law.

“My constituents are coming up to me with tears in their eyes, wondering what the future holds for their healthcare given the chaos Republican efforts could cause,” she said.

She cited the study published on Tuesday by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that said that up to 18 million people would lose their health insurance within a year of Obamacare’s elimination.

She also questioned Price about reports that have surfaced in recent hours that he had acquired stock in pharmaceutical firms knowing that they would benefit from a law that he himself was pushing through Congress.

Price admitted purchasing shares of those companies but denied having had access to privileged information before making any of the buys.

Price will undergo a new round of questioning before the Senate Finance Committee on January 24.