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Tom Price Confirmation Hearing for HHS. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 13:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:30:00] KAINE: I read the resolution with interest because of the phrase "commemorating the time of southern independence."

And I pulled it up, and I note the resolution that commemorated the time of southern independence mentions nothing about slavery. Why did you support that resolution and do you still support it today?

PRICE: I haven't thought about that in a long time Senator, but I'm happy to look at that and go back and try to refresh my memory about that.

KAINE: Set the resolution aside, what's - what's laudatory about the time of southern independence?

PRICE: I think every -- every heritage has things that are good about it. Every heritage has things that are harmful about it. And so I'm happy to answer a specific question -- I think slavery was an abomination.

KAINE: Do you think a history resolution about confederate history that completely omits any reference to slavery is - kind of meets the basic standards of fair, balanced...

PRICE: I don't know that it presumed to be comprehensive. What I do know is that the work that I did as the first Republican majority leader in the history of the state of Georgia, was to make certain that we came forward with a flag that did not have the confederate battle flag on it, that addressed all the concerns of the state and was adopted and supported by the state. We did so in a bipartisan way and I was privileged to work with, now Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, when he was in the United States - when he was in the Georgia Senate at that time to make certain that we were able to-do so.

KAINE: You are aware there's an office of minority health at HHS that was created in the affordable care act, reauthorized in the affordable care act.

PRICE: Yes.

KAINE: And if the ACA is repealed, unless it's separately reauthorized, that office would also expire?

PRICE: Again, that's a legislative question. If I am privileged to serve and be confirmed and be secretary of the health and human services, I look forward to -- to making certain that we use the resources available to us and the agencies available to us within the department, to make certain that every single American has the highest quality healthcare available.

KAINE: And - and why did you use the phrase "socialized medicine" to explain your vote against the CHIP program?

PRICE: I don't recall that conversation or that - that quote, but I'm happy to go back and look at it.

KAINE: OK, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Kaine. Senator Scott.

SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Dr. Price. Good to see you here today.

PRICE: Likewise.

SCOTT: Hoping for much success for you. Did I hear that you were at Emory University.

PRICE: I was.

SCOTT: Medical School?

PRICE: No, I did my residency at Emory.

SCOTT: My nephew just is in his first year of medical school at Emory. I - I - I hope that he gets a quality education.

PRICE: He will, and he's got an exciting road ahead.

SCOTT: Excellent, excellent. Well, I did have the privilege of serving you - serving with you in the House and enjoyed our relationship, our friendship and I look forward to seeing your success as the secretary of HHS. I have a couple of questions that are state specific to South Carolina. We have over 20 centers in South Carolina, with about 165 service sites, serving 350,000 patients in almost every county in the state.

Every county in South Carolina is either partially or completely designated as medically underserved by HERSA. As rural hospitals continue to close, these centers have addressed the need for many communities in my state. They work together with partners in the community to address impacts on health like food deserts and lack of transportation to preventative health services, which can save costs in the long run. A diabetic who does not take care - take their medication because they cannot afford it or has no way of picking up what will inevitably be a long run to the emergency room. What role do you think community health centers can play, particularly in rural and medically underserved areas?

PRICE: Thank you, Senator. Community health centers are a vital part of the health care delivery system right now. They - they - they fill a void in so many areas, as you mentioned, across your state and across mine, and literally across the county. I think there were 13,000 that are -- are the entry point and oftentimes times the area of health care for so many individuals. And we need to do all that we can to strengthen them, to make certain

that the providers and doctors and other providers that were within community health centers are of the highest quality, that they're providing highest quality care. And that they're able to -to access resources -- intellectual resources and clinical resources, to allow them to provide that care.

SCOTT: Less than a decade ago in South Carolina, emergency rooms were full of people waiting for psychiatric exams so they could either be admitted or discharged. After implementation of statewide telepsychiatry (ph) network, wait times have been cut from four days down to about 10 hours. The costs have been cut by almost two-thirds. What do you see as the future of telemedicine, particularly, to address access issues? What barriers can we anticipate, as well?

PRICE: Telemedicine is one of those exciting innovations that -- that will, I believe, allow for individuals, especially in rural and underserved areas, access to that intellectual capital and -- and resources from a clinical standpoint that make decisions on patients that are before them without being able to save resources and -- and save patients in so many ways.

We, in the state of Georgia, have a -- have a stroke program that's kind of a spoken wheel (ph) program where at the Medical College of Georgia, there's a neurologist that -- that works with -- with telemedicine and has a network of -- of clinics and hospitals around the state where somebody comes in with symptoms of a stroke, that physician is able to literally see that patient in real time and determine one, whether or not they need medication, whether or not they're having a stroke.

Whether they can be treated in the community or whether they have to be transferred to the academic center. In the past, it was a call on the ground, no ability to be able to talk with somebody who might have greater resources or knowledge and all of those patients trying to get to the academic center. Huge waste of money and not having patients at the center of that decision. So telemedicine is absolutely vital. And I think we need to accentuate the ability to use telemedicine.

As you well know right now, oftentimes, telemedicine, telehealth (ph), is -- is not paid for, it's not compensated. So people eat those, the clinicians eat those costs, they assume those costs that -- that help the patient, yes. But make it so its much more difficult for them to be able to provide the quality care necessary.

SCOTT: Thank you. Another interesting topic that you should be, I think, fairly familiar with, from a minority perspective, South Carolina like Georgia, has a high percentage of African Americans.

As you probably know, breast cancer deaths are approximately 1.5 times higher in African American women. Prostate cancer deaths are approximately 2.5 times higher in African American men. And new diagnosis are approximately twice as high.

I would love to hear your perspective on addressing some of the health disparities in communities of color, specifically.

PRICE: You know, this is really an important area, Senator. I appreciate you bringing it up. Because I think so often, what we do in -- in this and other areas is to say OK, we're gonna set up this -- this facility here or this -- this agency, here. And -- and we've taken care of the problem.

What I don't think we do is look at the -- the what's happening on the ground, the metrics as well as we -- as we could or should. We oughtta be defining specifically, whether or not we're actually improving the lives and health for individuals in -- in challenged communities.

And if we're not, then we need to step back honestly and sincerely and say what can we do to make certain that it works? I learned a couple months ago, I had the privilege of -- of being at a clinic in -- in Atlanta.

And I learned that there's a zip code in Atlanta within this metropolitan area of Atlanta that has -- has incredible disparities, in terms of their health outcomes and their health status. A higher mortality, higher rates of diabetes, higher rates of stroke, higher rates of myocardial infarctions.

And it -- it -- and they're surrounded by -- by incredible healthcare facilities. And -- and when we see those kinds of things, we need to drill down into those areas and say what's going on? Why is that happening?

And address the real challenge on the ground, as opposed to saying OK, we've -- we've taken care of it because now we have an agency that's addressed to take care of that. I think we need to do better metrics and better accountability for what's going on.

SCOTT: I'm sure that you guys have talked some, at some length, about rare diseases.

PRICE: We have.

SCOTT: Sickle cell, being one of the more important ones in the African American population. I would love to, perhaps, submit some questions for the record to get your insight and your perspective on how we tackle so many of those diseases moving forward.

PRICE: Look forward to that, Senator, thank you.

SCOTT: Yep, thank you.

ALEXANDER: Thank you, Senator Scott.

Senator Murray?

MURRAY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Congressman Price, I did wanna clarify your response to one of my previous questions. You admitted to me, in our meeting, that you in your own words talked with Congressman Collins about Innate Immuno.

This inspired you to -- in your own words, study the company and then purchase its stock. And you did so without a broker, yes or no?

PRICE: No.

MURRAY: Without a broker?

PRICE: I did not.

MURRAY: You -- you told me that you did this one on your own without the broker, yes?

PRICE: No I did it through a broker. I directed the broker to purchase the stock, but I did it through a broker.

MURRAY: You directed the broker to purchase, particularly, that stock.

PRICE: That's correct.

MURRAY: Yeah.

Well, Mr. Chairman, those answers really commit me to underscore the need for a full independent investigation and I would like to ask consent to enter the record an article from Kaiser Health News that notes that Congressman Price was offered a lower stock price for sophisticated investors, I think that's an important part of the record.

ALEXANDER: Will be included.

MURRAY: Representative Price, if you are confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services, you will be in charge of our nation's family planning programs and policies. You have said that you don't think cost is an issue for women in buying birth control and stated, and I quote, "Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There is not one."

You did say that, correct?

PRICE: I think what -- what I said and -- and what I meant, was that when I had patients in my office who were unable to afford medication, we did everything we could to make certain that they got that medication.

And what I meant to -- to capture in that conversation, was that if there are individuals who are unable to afford that medication or any medication, that there are avenues within the healthcare system that physicians and others take, to make certain that individuals receive the medication that they need.

MURRAY: Well, lemme tell you about my constituent Shannon (ph). Shannon (ph) has endometriosis. It's a common health condition impacting women. And she said, and I quote, "No copay birth control is an essential tool, helping women like me, with endometriosis who otherwise would have to live with chronic pain."

So no copay birth control was extremely important to her. She just wants -- you know, women are really deeply concerned about the impact this election could have on their access to healthcare that they need. I have heard from many of them.

And according to Planned Parenthood demand for IUDs, which is a form of long lasting contraception, is up 900 percent since the election. So I wanna ask you, will you commit to ensuring all 18, FDA-approved methods of contraception continue to be covered so that women do not have to go back to paying extra costs for birth control?

PRICE: What I will commit to and assure, is that women and -- and all Americans need to know, that -- that we believe strongly that every single American oughtta have access to the kind of coverage and care that they desire and want. And that's our commitment and that -- that runs across the board.

MURRAY: Well, lemme be clear, birth control is an essential part of women's healthcare and if you are confirmed, I will be holding you accountable for that.

I also wanted to ask you, I'm deeply concerned about the impact of your policies would have on women, obviously. And in particular, women who've often faced barriers to accessing the healthcare they need.

According to HHS data, since the ACA became law, the percentage of Black women who report not having a regular doctor dropped by nearly 30 percent, while that measure for Latinas fell by almost 25 percent.

Your healthcare repeal bill and your budget proposal to cut a trillion dollars from Medicaid, would disproportionally hurt women of color for their compounding disparities and access to healthcare and undoing progress that was made in the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Are you committed to ensuring that women of color maintain access to quality affordable Medicare?

PRICE: Senator, I appreciate it, I don't agree with the premise. The program that I support and that I believe the president supports, is to make certain that every individual has access to the kind of coverage that they want.

Nobody wants individuals to -- to not have the opportunity to see the doctors that they want, to get the kind of care that they want, at a price that's affordable and that's of the highest quality. That's what we believe in and I hope that -- that we'll be able to work together to achieve that goal.

MURRAY: Well, the Office of Minority Health was reauthorized as part of the ACA. So will you commit to maintaining and supporting this office and its work? PRICE: I will commit to -- to be certain that minorities in this country are treated in a way that makes certain, makes absolutely certain, that they have access to the highest quality care.

MURRAY: So -- so you will not commit to the Office of Minority Health being maintained?

PRICE: I think it's important that we -- that we think about the patient at the center of all of this. Our commitment, my commitment to you, is to make certain that minority patients and all patients in this country have access to the highest quality care...

MURRAY: But in particular, so you won't commit to the Office of Minority Health...

PRICE: We -- look, there are different ways to handle things. I can't commit to you to -- to do something in a department that one, I'm not in, I haven't gotten...

(CROSSTALK)

MURRAY: But you will be.

PRICE: And -- and -- what (ph)?

MURRAY: You will be and...

PRICE: Lemme -- lemme put forward a -- a possible position that I might find myself in. The individuals within the department come to me and they say, we've got a great idea for being able to find greater efficiencies within the department itself. And it results in merging this agency and that agency and we'll call it something else. And we will address the issues of minority help in a big --

(CROSSTALK) MURRAY: Let me ask you just as you one final question. As you are aware that black -- are you aware that black, Latino, American Indian, Alaska Natives are almost twice as likely as white people to be covered under Medicaid? Do you think it's responsible to propose cutting trillions of dollars in funding without a credible alternative to replace it for those -- ?

PRICE: Again I disagree with the premise, the solution that we have would insure that every single American, regardless of their health status and regardless of their economic status have the ability, financial feasibility to purchase the kind of coverage that they want.

MURRAY: Well I -- I have a few seconds left Mr. Chairman, as you can see we have members here who also have additional questions. I am deeply troubled by a number of responses. We have a lot of families who are very, very, very concerned since this election what will happen to them personally. We've outlined some of those and I hope that Congressman Price as we will have a significant number of questions from our colleagues that you will fully submit them for the record.

PRICE: Thank you. ALEXANDER: Thank you Senator Murray. Dr. Price, I want to thank you for being here. I only have a few comments. I don't have additional questions. I was reflected back on Sylvia Burwell's appearance before this committee, and how impressed I was with her appearance. I think you have done as well. I -- I've also been impressed with her performance in the job, because while I disagree with a number of the policies she's taken. She's gone out of her way to adopt the same tone that I've heard from you today, which is to try to accept and work with people with different points of view and see if we can come to a consensus. So I thank you for that and I'm impressed with your beginning and I appreciate your being here today. Based upon the figures I have, you've just endured the most extensive questioning of any Secretary of Health and Human Services since 1993.

Because of the round of questioning, Secretary Burwell was in the hearing for two hours and 10 minutes, Sebelius for two hours and 28 minutes, Daschle for two hours and 10 minutes, Leavitt less than two hours. I don't have it for others, you've been here nearly four. And next Tuesday, you'll go before the Finance Committee which will vote on whether you go forward to -- to the President. I'm very hopeful that your tone will -- will help us come to a conclusion and a consensus in this very important area of providing concrete practical alternatives to give Americans access to healthcare they can afford. I was reflecting last night on the hearing and today, they've been pretty testy. We often have strong opinions here because we have differences of opinions. But I think that's the reflection of one, the election over the past year, which became very uncivil, more so than I liked, and Republicans can take our share of the blame for that.

But also, this issue, which for six years we've been going at it like the Hatfields and McCoys in West Virginia until almost we've forgotten who killed who in the first place and we don't know, you know, we're not absolutely clear what we're fighting about. So it -- it would -- it would take a bedside manner such as you have to lower the temperature as Senator Kaine suggested. He had 12 Democrats, he was among 12 Democrats who wrote a letter suggesting they were willing to -- to work with Republicans as we go forward. I think it will take a little while to lower that temperature, just because we spent six years as the Hatfields and McCoys, but I'm committed to trying. That's the way we used to work in the committee on very contentious issues and I'd like to get away from the testiness of last night and today and back toward -- back toward the way we've -- we've learned to work.

A couple of other things, I hope those watching are reassured by what they heard from you. What I heard from you, I believe I'm correct about this, is that we intend to repair the damage of Obamacare and that would eventually mean repealing parts of it, major parts of it. That, that won't become effective until there are practical concrete alternatives in place to give Americans access to healthcare.

In other words, we don't want to pull the rug out from anybody, and I'm sure that's a shared -- a shared view. You've talked some about the importance of March the 1st. One thing we have to work together on is what do we do about the individual market? And the fact that 1/3 of the counties, there's already just one insurer for people with Obamacare subsidies and we don't want to get into a situation later this year or in 2018 where there's, you know, as I said, it's like having a bus ticket in a town with no buses. So we may have to do some things on both sides of the aisle we wouldn't normally do during this transition period, to make sure that -- that insurers are willing to sell into the market so these 11 million people continue to buy insurance hopefully for more than one person.

I think it's also become clear that the timing that we've talked about has yet to be resolved really, and sequencing is as important almost as the policy. I mean, how do we get from where we are to where we eventually hope to go. And the way I think about it, is that we go to work immediately on what I call a collapsing bridge, repair it. That's the individual market, make sure that people aren't hurt by it and then work together to build new bridges and then close the old bridge only when we have new bridges up. I think we can make most of the decisions about the quote, "replacement" or replacements or the new systems, new bridges in a relatively short period of time. We've been working on this for years. We have our opinions. We ought to be able to sit in a room and come to a conclusion. In my opinion then, it will take several years to actually implement those decisions, because in many cases we'll be transferring responsibility to states and consumers will want to do that after talking with governors and insurance commissioners

Do it on a schedule where states can accept their legislatures sometimes only meet every two years. So making decisions promptly, making them together, if we possibly can, and then implementing it -- implementing it step by step and carefully so that people are able to have access to lower cost insurance is what I hope I've heard today. And one other thing, Senator Cassidy, Senator Whitehouse, several members of this committee, maybe all of us, worked very hard, I know Senator Murray did as well on trying to deal with the Electronic Healthcare Records and meaningful use. At Vanderbilt, which was an early adopter of the Electronic Healthcare Records said stage one was very helpful. Stage two they could deal with and stage three was terrifying. And -- and I had hoped that we could delay stage three and I thought that maybe could be as simple as saying to the physicians and providers of the world, look if you're a doc and you're spending 50 percent of your time filling out forms, than either you're doing something wrong or we're doing something wrong. And let's work together for the next couple of works to -- to see if we can get that down to a manageable level and create an environment where physicians and providers can spend their time talking instead of typing.

So you've got a bi-partisan consensus here to work on that, at least we did last year when we passed the Cures Bill, which had a number of provisions in it. We had six hearings on the subject and I invite you to work with us, if you're confirmed, to -- to -- to complete that. Senators wished to ask additional questions of our nominee. Questions for the record are due by the close of business on Friday, January 20th. For all other matters, the hearing record will remain for 10 days. Members may submit additional information for the record within that time. The next meeting of our committee will be an executive session on January 24th at 10 a.m., which has already been noticed. Thank you for being here today. The committee will stand adjourned.

PRICE: Thank you Mr. Chairman.

[13:54:04] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Almost four hours of testimony from Tom Price, the nominee to become the next secretary of Health and Human Services.

Four hours, Jake, of pretty tough questioning, especially from several of the Democrats, including the ranking Democrats, Patty Murray, Al Franken, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren. And touch questions on whether he violated ethics rules by purchasing stock and then getting involved in specific legislation that potentially could have helped that stock.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Our viewers might remember there was a book several years ago, called "Extortion," by Peter Schweizer, who went on to write the book "Clinton Cash," talking about how members of Congress often would learn things through their job and then trade stock, make money off of that knowledge. There was a law that was pass subsequently, called the Stock Act, but it had to actually prove insider trading. It didn't actually ban the general practice of members of Congress dealing in stocks that they have oversight over.

Manu Raju, obviously, earlier this week, talked about a story about this device, this medical device, it was roughly about $2,000 in terms of how much money Tom Price might have made.

[13:55:13] But the bigger issue, I think, is whether or not he, as somebody who was on the Ways and Means Committee, dealt with stocks that his committee had some kind of role and oversight over. There's a difference, of course, between what's legal and what's ethical. And Congressman Price very strongly saying he did nothing unethical, he did nothing untoward, he was transparent, h shared all this information.

But as President-elect Trump comes to Washington and begins the process of trying to, quote, unquote, "drain the swamp," this is an issue that will be of interest to voters, not just for Congressman Price, possibly the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Price, but also just going forward with members of Congress. Should they be allowed to traffic in and make money and trade stocks if they have oversight over those stocks and maybe are getting information that the rest of the public wouldn't know.

BLITZER: All 12 Republicans seemed very receptive to Price. Some of the 11 Democrats unreceptive, clearly, unreceptive. But it looks like he's going to be well on his way to getting confirmed.

TAPPER: I think it's pretty clear that a lot of these votes are just going to be very party line votes. But make no mistake, Senators Franken and Warren really made a push to try to paint Tom Price as unethical, or at least of having engaged in unethical practices. I don't know it will stick. I think it's likely he'll make it out of committee just fine, but they really did try to try to make some wounds.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following, including the latest on the health of President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. We'll update you on that.

We're also standing by for President Obama's final news conference as president of the United States.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:04] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to our special coverage of President Barack Obama's last news conference as president.