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Health secretary choice gives Dems few details

Alan Fram
Associated Press

Washington — President Donald Trump’s selection to become health secretary told a Senate committee Tuesday that the new administration believes people with existing illnesses should not be denied health insurance, but committed to no details on that or any aspects of how Republicans will reshape President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who would be at the center of GOP efforts to scuttle Obama’s statute and create new programs, frustrated Democrats probing for details of what Republicans will do. Instead, he repeatedly told them that the GOP goal is making health care affordable and “accessible for every single American” and to provide choices.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Price’s nomination, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told him the upcoming Republican drive to scrap Obama’s overhaul will garner no Democratic votes and warned: “What we have after the repeal is Trump care.”

Democrats also condemned Price, a 12-year House veteran, for purchasing stocks in health care companies that could benefit from legislation he pushed. Top panel Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon called that “a conflict of interest and an abuse of his position.”

Price, an orthopedic surgeon, told Wyden: “The reality is everything I did was ethical, above board, legal and transparent.”

Wyden questioned Price about the congressman’s purchase of around 400,000 shares last August of Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd., an Australian drug company. Wyden said Price had bought the stock at prices only available to insider investors, had understated the value of those shares in papers filed with the Finance Committee, and had obtained the stocks at a time when he could affect congressional legislation.

Price appeared a day before Republicans head to Philadelphia for meetings on how to revamp the nation’s health care system. After solidly opposing Obama’s law since Democrats pushed it through Congress in 2010, Trump’s White House victory puts them in position to deliver their pledge to repeal and replace it, but they’ve not decided how.

Democrats questioned Price about whether a Republican replacement would continue requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing illnesses. Before Obama’s law, insurance companies did not have to do that because such consumers can be extremely costly to cover, though Trump has said he supports continuing such coverage.

Price said one way to cover people who are already sick is with high-risk pools, in which people with high medical costs are pooled together to avoid having their expenses drive up premiums for healthier consumers.