A Senate confirmation hearing on Tom Price, Donald Trump’s pick to be the next U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, revealed more about the thinking of Senate Republicans who want to shore up the current commercial health insurance system while working on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act system.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee brought Price, a Republican representative from Georgia, in for a confirmation hearing Wednesday. As the head of HHS, Price would oversee Medicare, Medicaid, the Medicaid nursing home benefits program, and HHS ACA programs.
Democrats at the hearing probed Price, an orthopedic surgeon, about his investments, according to a video of the hearing posted on the committee website.
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Several Republican senators at the hearing talked about efforts to make sure some kind of alternative to the Affordable Care Act is in place before repealing it or making major changes to ACA program funding levels.
The discussion was important because Republicans hold just 52 seats.
It’s not clear how well old procedural rules and traditions will apply to the incoming Trump administration. If past procedural rules apply, ACA critics may need just 51 votes to get a measure de-funding major ACA programs, such as the ACA public exchange plan premium tax credit subsidy system, through the Senate. Republicans probably need 60 votes, including at least eight Democrats and independents, to get a bill that changes, fully repeals or fully replaces the ACA through the Senate.
Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada have been especially vocal about the need for Republicans to have a ACA alternative in place when they pass ACA de-funding or repeal legislation.
Congressional Budget Office analysts recently added to pressure on Republican ACA opponents to work with Democrats to come up with an ACA repair or ACA replacement proposal that can attract 60 votes in the Senate, by predicting that a pure ACA de-funding measure would increase the number of uninsured people in the United States by 18 million in the first year after the de-funding took effect.
Trump has said several times that he wants to replace the ACA, not simply de-fund or repeal it.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, represents a state that’s home to HCA Inc., a giant Nashville-based hospital company that has benefited greatly from the ACA Medicaid expansion program.
Alexander said at the hearing that replacing the ACA, which he calls “Obamacare,” is like replacing a bridge that’s near collapse.