WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee and a staunch Affordable Care Act opponent, dismissed accusations that repealing that law would retroactively leave millions without health insurance.
“One of the important things that we need to convey to the American people is that nobody is interested in pulling out the rug from underneath anybody,” Price said in response to a question about Obamacare repeal and replacement plans from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman, during a preliminary confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
“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 has been of talk about individuals losing health coverage that is not our goal, nor is it our desire, nor is it our plan.”
The Senate Finance Committee has legal jurisdiction over Price’s confirmation and will consider the nomination next Tuesday.
President-elect Donald Trump has stated that Obamacare repeal and replacement should occur simultaneously.
Price did not provide specifics as to what a replacement plan might look like.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a Fox interview on Sunday that he has begun drafting a replacement plan and on Monday tweeted a picture of the first page of the legislation.
Price was introduced by fellow Georgia lawmaker Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), who spoke in favor of the nomination.
Price, 62, is the Chairman of the House Budget Committee and is also an orthopedic surgeon.
Trump chose Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services in late November and his selection was met with harsh criticism from many Democrats who expressed concern over Price’s opposition to both the Affordable Care Act and abortion.
Price also faces criticism stemming from a December Wall Street Journal article that suggests the Georgia congressman traded in excess of $300,000 in medical stocks during the past four years while working to pass legislation that could have had an impact on those investments.
On Tuesday CNN reported that last March Price purchased about $15,000 of Zimmer Biomet stock and then about a week later introduced legislation that would have stalled the implementation of a new regulation that could have had a negative impact on the company’s products.
A spokesperson for Price told CNN on Tuesday that the Congressman was not at the time privy to his broker’s decision to purchase the Zimmer Biomet shares.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) suggested that she did not believe Price’s broker acted independent of the Congressman’s orders.
“This is someone who buys stock at your direction. This is someone who buys and sells the stocks you want them to buy and sell,” Warren insisted.
Price said Warren’s characterization was false but the Massachusetts senior senator persisted.
“Just because you decide not to tell them? Wink, wink, nod, nod and we’re all just supposed to believe that,” Warren asked.
Ranking Democrat Patty Murray grilled Price with a barrage of questions related to allegations of questionable investments in an Australian biotech company.
“You purchased stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics, a company working to develop new drugs, on four separate occasions between January 2015 and August 2016. You made the decision to purchase that stock, not a broker. Yes or no,” Murray asked.
“That was a decision that I made, yes,” Price said.
“You were offered an opportunity to purchase stock at a lower price than was available to the general public. Yes or no,” Murray asked.
“The initial purchase in January of 2015 was at the market price. The secondary purchase in June through August-September of 2016 was at a price that was available to individuals who were participating in a private placement offering,” Price said.
“That was lower than was available to the general public, correct,” Murray asked.
“I don’t know that it was,” Price said. “It was the same price that everybody paid for the private placement offering.”
Murray then referenced Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who is a member of the Trump transition team, and is also a board member as well as an investor of Innate Immunotherapeutics, according to that company’s website.
Murray relayed how Collins was reportedly overheard last week talking on his cellphone off the House floor about how he had helped make Buffalo investors rich by providing what Murray described as a “stock tip.”
“Congressman Price, in our meeting you informed me that you made these purchases based on conversations with Representative Collins. Is that correct,” Murray asked.
“No,” Price replied.
“That is what you said to me in my office,” Murray insisted.
“What I believe I said to you was that I learned of the company from Congressman Collins,” Price said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) inquired as to whether Price believes all Americans are entitled to healthcare.
“Yes, we’re a compassionate society,” Price replied.
Sanders said he disagreed with that premise.
“No, we are not a compassionate society,” Sanders said. “In terms our relationship to poor and working people, our record is worse than virtually any other country on Earth.”