Wednesday, January 25, 2017

ASSAULTING THE PEOPLE FOR WALL STREET - Trump nominee defends administration’s assault on health care

Trump nominee defends administration’s assault on health care

Trump nominee defends
administration’s assault on health care
By Kate Randall

25 January 2017
In his final
appearance before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, Rep. Tom Price
(Republican of Georgia), Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of
Health and Human Services (HHS), arrogantly dismissed questioning from
committee Democrats about the new administration’s planned assault on Medicare,
Medicaid and health care in general.
Queried on whether he
supported block-granting of Medicaid, privatization of Medicare, and certain
guarantees of health care coverage, Price responded with the stock answer:
“People will have access to the highest quality of health care at an affordable
price.” He rejected any suggestion that millions of people would be denied
coverage due to the simple fact that they cannot afford it.
Price, a Tea Party
Republican and current chair of the House Budget Committee, opposes the
Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s signature domestic legislation,
from the right. In 2015, Price presented his “Empowering Patients First Act,”
which calls for repealing the ACA and all its mandates, and cutting $449
billion over the next decade from Medicare, the government insurance program
for seniors and the disabled, and $1.1 trillion from Medicaid, the health
insurance program for the poor jointly administered by the federal government
and the states.
Democrats posturing
as opponents of the Republicans’ attack on health care had little to offer in
their own defense, except a degree of exasperation at Price’s stonewalling. The
program popularly known as Obamacare, while providing modest government
subsidies and guaranteeing some “essential” services and protections against
discrimination in coverage, is based on the for-profit health care system, with
its “individual mandate” requiring individuals without insurance to purchase
coverage from the private insurers.
The HHS nominee’s
performance before the Senate committee was characterized by smug obfuscation
and a refusal to go on the record with any of his health care beliefs or
policies. Having served more than a decade in the House, much of it spent
crusading for his far-right health care agenda, he repeatedly insisted that his
job as HHS secretary would be as an “administrator” and not a “legislator.”
Thus he repeatedly
refused to answer “yes” or “no” to questioning by Sen. Claire McCaskill,
Democrat of Missouri, on whether he would support block-granting of Medicaid,
saying that would be up to Congress to legislate. In fact, Price’s “Empowering
Patients” bill calls for both repeal of the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA
(which newly insured about 10 million people) and block-granting the health
program for the poor.
While under current
law the federal government picks up a percentage of states’ Medicaid costs,
under block-granting states would receive a capped dollar amount that would not
keep pace with health care costs, due to increased enrollment caused by rising
unemployment or other factors.
The end result would
force states to handle their Medicaid funding crises by making draconian cuts
to eligibility, benefits and provider payment rates. Millions of the poorest
Americans who are eligible for Medicaid would thus be denied benefits. This is
the intended aim of those promoting block-granting, despite claims that it
would give “power back to the states” to better administer the program.
Trump, who vowed
during the presidential campaign that he “wouldn’t touch” Medicare, Medicaid
and Social Security, now openly supports block-granting. White House counselor
Kellyanne Conway confirmed this in an appearance on NBC News Sunday morning, saying
the president supports block grants, and that with them “you really cut out the
fraud, waste and abuse, and you get the help directly” to beneficiaries. In
other words, federal funding will be slashed as a result.
To questions put by
Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey: “Do you not seek to privatize
Medicare?” and “Do you not seek to ultimately offer a voucher as your way of
providing a greater affordability for Medicare?” Price answered “no” to both.
In reality, congressional Republicans, including Price and House Speaker Paul
Ryan, have long eyed the program, which covers more than 55 million elderly
Americans, for privatization.
Price refused to
answer questions from Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the
committee, on whether people would be worse off or lose coverage under an ACA
repeal, and whether there would be a replacement in place if and when Obamacare
is repealed. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that more than 30
million Americans could lose their health insurance coverage if the ACA is
repealed without a replacement.
Sen. Sherrod Brown,
Democrat of Ohio, queried Price on whether recent Trump statements were true
that Price was working with Trump on a replacement plan for the ACA “which is
nearly finished and will be revealed after your confirmation.” Price cynically
replied, “It’s true that he said that, yes,” drawing laughter from the hearing
Earlier in the day’s
hearing, Price also defended himself against new allegations contained in a
bipartisan staff memo circulated among Finance Committee members. The memo
alleges that he undervalued the amount of stock he owned in an Australian
biotech firm on his financial disclosure forms and that he did not properly
disclose late tax payments on rental properties.
Price responded to
questioning by Wyden on the investments: “The reality is that everything that I
did was ethical, above board, legal and transparent.” It is unlikely that this
issue and earlier questioning on other investments by Price will turn any of
the Republicans on the Finance Committee against the nominee.
Concluding the
hearing, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the committee, said of Price’s
performance: “We’ve never had a witness that has performed as well as you
have,” and bemoaned the “hyper-politicization of the nomination process.” He
called the Democrats’ questioning on Price’s ethics “specious and distorted.”
Hatch summed up the
attitude of the ruling elite and its most right-wing political representatives
on health care and social spending in general. “We’ve got to end this liberal
clap-trap that we don’t have to pay the piper,” he said. The chairman said he
was tired of the idea that “we’ve got to do everything for everybody,” adding,
“Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
A vote will take place
on Price’s nomination this week in the Finance Committee, which is expected to
be in his favor, largely along party lines. The nomination will then go to the
full Senate for a vote.

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