HHS Nominee Tom Price Says All Americans Have Right to Health Care

Orthopedic surgeon touts affordability, accessibility of replacement to Obamacare

Tom Price
Tom Price / AP

Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.), nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, said on Tuesday that all Americans have a right to health care.

Price, testifying before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, was asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) whether he believed health care was a right of all Americans, rich or poor.

"Yes, we are a compassionate society," Price responded. "I believe—and I look forward to working with you—that we make certain that every single American has access to the highest quality of care and coverage that is possible."

Price, an orthopedic surgeon, said he wants to change the country's health care system so that it serves the needs of all.

The congressman testified that the Affordable Care Act has improved some areas of the health care sector, but that its expansion of health care coverage has not come with an attendant expansion of health care. He stressed the importance of affordability and accessibility, adding that he shared President-elect Donald Trump's goal of insurance for everybody.

"One of the important things that we need to convey to the American people is that nobody's interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody," Price said. "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."

"I think there's been a lot of talk about individuals losing health care coverage—that is not our goal, nor is it our desire, nor is it our plan," he said.

When asked whether Republicans had a plan to replace Obamacare, Price noted that he has put forth at least 11 pieces of legislation to reform and improve health care.

Price, who chairs the Task Force on Health Care Reform, has played a central role in crafting a replacement to Obamacare. The Republican group unveiled its "Better Way" agenda for health care reform in June 2016.

"We finally put to rest the notion that Republicans don't have a health care plan," Price said. "We're proposing a patient-centered solution where patients and families and doctors are making medical decisions and not Washington, D.C."

Price has been working to reform health care before Obamacare was even signed into law. Price introduced the Empowering Patients First Act in 2009, which was an alternative to the Democrats' health reform proposal at the time. He has reintroduced the act since then as legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), have expressed concern about Price's investments in the medical industry. They have called for an ethics investigation into trades for his broker-managed portfolio that were made as he worked on relevant health care legislation.

"Representative Price has reportedly traded more than $300,000 in shares of roughly 40 health care and pharmaceutical companies while simultaneously pushing and advocating for legislation on the federal level that could potentially impact these companies stock price," Schumer said on Jan. 5.

"Congressman Price had the influence and was actively involved in pushing health care policies while simultaneously making dozens of trades in companies that would be impacted by those polices," he said. "Today we are here to call on the House Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether any laws were broken."

Price said at the hearing that he first purchased stock for these companies at market price, and subsequently purchased stock available in private placement offerings. Price said he learned about one of the companies through Rep. Chris Collins (R., N.Y.), but did not receive any stock tips or nonpublic information about the company.

Price said he is enthusiastic about the opportunity to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

"There is much work to be done to ensure we have a health care system that works for patients, families, and doctors; that leads the world in the cure and prevention of illness; and that is based on sensible rules to protect the well-being of the country while embracing its innovative spirit," he said.