Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., is President Trump’s nominee to be the next secretary of Health and Human Services, and the next chief executive officer of the U.S. systems for providing acute health care and long-term care for older residents.
HHS has an annual budget over $1 trillion. It oversees both Medicare, which provides health care for the elderly and disabled, and Medicaid, a state-federal program that pays for nursing home care for people who meet state and federal eligibility standards.
Private long-term care insurance issuers have tried to compete with Medicaid, but Medicaid is close to being a universal government long-term care plan. The French government health insurance program pays about 77 percent of its consumers’ medical bills, for example. In the United States, Medicaid pays about 60 percent of nursing home bills.
During a confirmation hearing last week, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee focused mainly on questions about Price’s investments, the Affordable Care Act and Democrats’ fears about efforts to cap Medicare, and Medicaid subsidies.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee tended to focus on the same concerns at a Price confirmation hearing of their own this week. But they talked a little more about long-term care and Medicare issues other than whether the Republicans will make traditional Medicare more like the Medicare Advantage program.
Continue reading for four things you should know about Rep. Tom Price.
Price got his start in medicine in a small town in Michigan. (Photo: Thinkstock)
1. Home care
Price grew up in Dearborn, Michigan. Both his father and grandfather were doctors.
Because of that, his upbringing was characterized by direct, hands-on experience with providing home health care.
“Some of my fondest memories were of spending time with my grandfather, a physician, as he made house calls to see patients,” Price said in his opening statement.
Price thinks current system financial incentives often hurt the quality of care. (Photo: Thinkstock)
2. Cost driver views
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., asked Price why he thinks Medicaid costs are going up, and whether he supports the ongoing federal effort to encourage a shift to home-based care, and away from institutional care.
“Clearly, the system isn’t working right now,” Price said.
Encouraging use of home care, “if it is right for the patient, is a wonderful thing to be able to do, and we ought to incentivize that,” Price said. “There are so many things we could do.”
But many of the system controls now in place get in the way of care providers providing more economical, more efficient and more effective care, he said.
“I think that oftentimes we’re not identifying the best practices in the Medicaid system,” Price said.
Price believes patient choice is the best medicine for health system problems. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee said they believe an early version of the Trump administration’s budget for 2018 would cut $1 trillion in Medicaid spending. They tried to get Price to talk about how that budget cut would reconcile with his vision of what Medicaid should be like.
Price repeated several times, in several different ways, his principles for what Medicaid and Medicare should be like.
At one point, he said, “What I believe in is a Medicaid system that is responsive to the patients and provides the highest quality care possible, and I would respectfully suggest to you that that’s not the Medicaid that we currently have.”
Price believes in mental parity. (Photo: Thinkstock)
4. Behavioral health benefits
Price avoided making promises in response to many questions from Democratic senators about Affordable Care Act program benefits and other benefits.
But Price gave a clear answer to a question about his views on whether health programs should provide parity for behavioral health conditions and other health conditions.
“I’ve been a supporter of mental health parity,” Price said. “I think that mental health illnesses ought to be treated on the same model as other physical illnesses.”
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