Tom Price defends GOP healthcare bill to the public

Tom Price speaks at hearing
Tom Price aimed to convince the public on Wednesday that the GOP's replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act would create a better healthcare system.

Amid widespread criticism of the GOP’s bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, newly appointed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price decided to defend the proposed legislation to the public, answering questions posed by citizens during a televised CNN town hall meeting Wednesday night.

The goal, he told the audience, is to make sure “every single American” has health coverage by using a “carrot and stick approach” as opposed to a mandate that penalizes individuals who refuse to purchase insurance.

Price, an orthopedic surgeon and a former congressman, was a vocal opponent of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The GOP’s American Health Care Act, Price said, will help create a system in which competition among insurers increases, consumers will have more choice and healthcare costs will go down.

But many of the questions were emotionally charged, with citizens asking about plans to defund Planned Parenthood and the impact it will have on women’s services, concerns over premium hikes for older Americans and why Price endorses a plan that would put an end to Medicaid expansion when so many people rely on Medicaid benefits.

Response to Medicaid concerns 

One cancer survivor told Price that Medicaid expansion saved his life and prevented him from going bankrupt as a result of his treatments. Getting a cancer diagnosis was bad enough, he said, why do you want to take away Medicaid expansion?

Price said lawmakers don’t want to take away care from anyone, but they want to reform and strengthen the Medicaid system because the program is having difficulty providing care to all the individuals currently on it.

“The program itself worked well for you, that’s wonderful,” Price said. “But the fact a third of physicians aren’t seeing Medicaid patients and they should.”

But Mitch Jacques, M.D., a family physician in West Virginia, does care for that population and says under the GOP’s bill one out of five rural patients will lose their health insurance. How does the American Health Care Act help patients who don’t have insurance, he asked.

“We aren’t interested in having anyone lose their health insurance,” Price responded. “We believe the current system is failing many people. There are 20 million individuals in the country right now, told us in spite of the mandate and penalty, they don’t want it, can’t afford it or are not interested. That’s a system that is not working for everyone. We want to put in a system that will work.”

Price also argued that the issue shouldn’t be how much money the federal government puts in to Medicaid. Instead, he said, it should be whether it takes care of beneficiaries who need the program. Price advocates for a system that allows states to develop programs that suit the needs of the individuals who live there instead of a federal program that offers the same care for all the populations it serves.

Premium hike worries

And to Teresa Caliari, the retired public school teacher who worried that the bill allows insurers to charge five times more for premiums to older Americans, Price said lawmakers justify it by the fact that insurers are leaving health insurance exchanges, which means in many cases people are left with only one expensive choice for coverage. But when CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer pressed Price on whether he could promise Caliari wouldn’t be financially worse off as a result of the GOP plan, Price said she would not be worse off from a healthcare standpoint.

Planned Parenthood funding

As to the worry that women could lose basic access to care if Planned Parenthood is defunded, Price said the majority of Americans don’t want federal dollars spent on abortion services. The bill, he said, increases money for women’s health services through community health centers.