Top health of­fi­cial won’t give plans for Oba­macare

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Anna Ed­ney and Zachary Tracer Bloomberg News

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price wouldn’t say Wed­nes­day whether the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion still sup­ports re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act, days af­ter his party’s ef­forts to over­haul the law broke down.

“We find our­selves right now in a po­si­tion that the cur­rent sys­tem is not work­ing,” Price said in a House sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing when asked re­peat­edly whether the ad­min­is­tra­tion is aim­ing to re­peal the ACA. “We have to fix the prob­lem.”

Price and other mem­bers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion will play a cru­cial role in the suc­cess or fail­ure of the ACA over the com­ing year. De­ci­sions on whether to en­cour­age peo­ple to sign up dur­ing the en­roll­ment pe­riod later this year and how to en­force the law’s re­quire­ment that all peo­ple buy in­sur­ance cov­er­age could ei­ther bol­ster or un­der­mine the pro­gram.

Pressed by Rep. Mark Po­can, D-Wis., on whether the ad­min­is­tra­tion still wants to re­peal the law, Price said: “What we’re try­ing to do is make sure in­di­vid­u­als have ac­cess to cov­er­age and care.”

Repub­li­cans have sent mixed sig­nals about their in­ten­tions for Oba­macare. Even as President Don­ald Trump says the law is “ex­plod­ing,” he has also said he’s ready to work with Democrats on health care leg­is­la­tion. On Tues­day, some House Repub­li­cans said they were still look­ing for ways to res­ur­rect their failed ef­fort to re­peal and re­place the ACA, and White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said the White House was in an “on­go­ing dis­cus­sion” with House Repub­li­cans to try to gain a ma­jor­ity on health leg­is­la­tion.

“We’re not go­ing to cre­ate a deal for the sake of cre­at­ing a deal,” Spicer said Wed­nes­day. “You got to know when to walk away.”

Stuck in neu­tral, Price and the rest of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion find them­selves re­spon­si­ble for a law they’ve re­peat­edly called a fail­ure. Mean­while, Democrats in Congress are look­ing for re­as­sur­ance that the ad­min­is­tra­tion won’t sab­o­tage the health cov­er­age pro­gram, and will in­stead work with them to im­prove it.

“We would wel­come your sin­cere in­ter­est in bi­par­ti­san work to im­prove qual­ity, lower costs, and ex­pand cov­er­age,” 44 Se­nate Democrats wrote in a let­ter to Trump re­leased Wed­nes­day ask­ing him to stop ef­forts to re­peal the ACA. “We urge you to use your ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity to sup­port a sta­ble, com­pet­i­tive in­sur­ance mar­ket­place.”

Price wouldn’t say whether he’d com­mit to en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to sign up for ACA plans, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had pushed heav­ily. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pulled some out­reach in the fi­nal days of the 2017 sign-up sea­son, a move that has been blamed for hurt­ing en­roll­ment.

In­sur­ers “aren’t cer­tain given the cur­rent con­struct of the law they are go­ing to be able to con­tinue to pro­vide cov­er­age for folks,” Price said. “We want to make sure that every Amer­i­can has ac­cess to af­ford­able cov­er­age, what­ever we can do to make that hap­pen.”

Dur­ing the hear­ing, Price was also ques­tioned about en­force­ment of the law’s re­quire­ment for in­di­vid­u­als to be in­sured.

“So long as the law is on the books, we at the de­part­ment are obliged to up­hold the law,” he said.

‘We want to make sure that every Amer­i­can has ac­cess to af­ford­able cov­er­age, what­ever we can do to make that hap­pen. … So long as the law is on the books, we at the de­part­ment are obliged to up­hold the law.’ Tom Price Sec­re­tary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices

ZACH GIB­SON / GETTY IMAGES

Sec­re­tary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Tom Price tes­ti­fies Wed­nes­day dur­ing a La­bor, Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, Ed­u­ca­tion, and Re­lated Agen­cies Sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing. The hear­ing dis­cussed the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices bud­get.

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