Congressional confirmation hearings continued today on Capitol Hill and President-Elect Trump’s cabinet picks continue to be pelted by oppositional questioning from Democratic Senators. Dr. Thomas Price, nominated for Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary face-off against Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Patty Murray (D-GA).
There were a few moments of productive and civil discussion centering around the improvement of Quality of Care and strengthening the Physician-Patient relationship, Importance of Community Health Centers, telephonic medicine and the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) which all had an apparent positive impact on the questioning panel.
The tone changed quite dramatically when Senator Sanders went into offensive attack mode demanding to know if President-Elect Trump intends to “keep his word to the American people” and not make any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security or did Mr. Trump just simply “lie to the American people”.
The onslaught continued when Sen. Murray who took only a slightly aggressive but equally demanding position, quoted statistics of the number of African-American and Latina Women who now have a regular doctor have increased by 30 and almost 25% percent respectively since the inception of the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA). Senator Murray concerned about Dr. Price’s policy proposals that would cut a trillion dollars from the Medicaid program would “disproportionately hurt women of color, further compounding disparities and access to healthcare and undo the progress made with the ACA. She continued to press about the Office of Minority Health asking for a commitment to the maintenance of that department and ensuring that all 18 FDA-approved Birth Control options remain covered. Murray asked if Price was aware that “Black, Latina, American Indian and Alaskan Natives are twice as likely as white people to be covered under Medicaid”. Making the issue of healthcare concerns centered around a socioeconomic status vs equal availability of quality care for all Americans.
Throughout the questioning Rep. Price repeatedly emphasized his vision and goals. Attempting to answer her questions of commitment to specific policy emphatically stressing his point that his “focus is now and has always been” to ensure and “to be certain” that health care access is available to all Americans “regardless of health status and regardless of economic status” His answer which seemed not to satisfy Senator Murray interrupting as she spoke over him “I think, I think I…Yeah..I think I..Yeah, ok… I just have a minute left and…I hear your answer, you’re not committed.” Rep. Price did say what he would commit to, which was that he would “assure women and what all Americans need to know is we believe strongly that every single American ought to have access to the kind of coverage and care that they desire and want; And that’s our commitment that runs across the board”. The Hearing concluded on a positive note with an expression of appreciation from Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for enduring “the most extensive” questioning since 1993 for an HHS Secretary having been there for nearly four hours. Sen. Alexander expressed that Dr. Price’s tone was encouraging and reflective of his willingness to maintain a constructive approach even when facing strong opposition, leaving hope for future legislative discussions to follow suit.