Senate prepares to vote on HHS pick Tom Price, confirmation likely

Tom Price speaking
Price's nomination has been controversial from the start.

The Senate will likely vote on the nomination of Rep. Tom Price, M.D., R-Ga., as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services later today or Friday morning.

The Senate voted Wednesday across party lines (51 to 48) to begin consideration of President Donald Trump’s pick to oversee HHS. They resumed discussion of the nomination this morning and Price's confirmation seems likely. But the motion to discuss his nomination allows for 30 hours of debate. If Democrats use all that time, the vote will not take place until Friday morning,

Price's nomination has been controversial from the start. Democrats have raised numerous conflict of interest concerns over possible insider trading and Price’s stock holdings in several healthcare companies, while he pushed legislation that might benefit those companies. The list of potential ethical violations continues to grow. A USA Today investigation found Wednesday that the number of stocks Price bought and sold while a member of Congress warranted probes by both federal securities regulators and the House ethics committee. The newspaper’s analysis of Price’s stock trade reports also found he misstated the timing of his stock purchase or failed to report them.

Last month, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee tried to delay a vote on recommending Price's nomination to the full Senate by boycotting the meeting, but Republican committee members went ahead the next day and voted without Democratic colleagues present.

This morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged his colleagues to not wait a moment longer to confirm Price, an orthopedic surgeon who has served as a member of the House of Representatives for six terms. “He doesn’t just understand healthcare policy as a policymaker but as a practicing physician,” McConnell said.

McConnell said Price would help stabilize the health insurance market, provide relief to families who were hurt by the Affordable Care Act and will help move the industry to patient-centered care.

Despite a ringing endorsement by the American Medical Association, many doctors within the organization protested due to Price’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act.  

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Price was a tremendous choice and has as “much knowledge of the U.S. healthcare system than anyone on earth.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, minority whip, disagreed and during the debate this morning said he will vote in opposition of the nomination. Part of his reasoning is because Price wants to repeal the ACA and its provision to expand Medicaid, which would eliminate the guarantee of health insurance coverage for low-income citizens. In Durbin's state of Illinois, he said that repeal could lead to the loss of 90,000 hospital jobs.

“It’s a job killer and endangers the health of people,” Durbin said, adding that since Price is a doctor he would expect him to think of what it means when the government doesn’t protect people with basic insurance.

During his confirmation hearings, Price often said he would support access to high-quality healthcare. But Durbin said access doesn’t mean they can afford to purchase it. “I can walk onto a showroom floor that has $85,000 cars. I may have access to the showrooms, but can I buy one? No, I can’t afford it,” he said.

Therefore, Durblin said, access is a loaded word. Access doesn’t describe what kind of health insurance people would have or how they would pay for it.

Look to FierceHealthcare for updates on Price's nomination and the Senate vote.