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Trump's Health Secretary Nominee Won't Commit To Uphold His Promise Not To Cut Medicare Or Medicaid

Rep. Tom Price would not commit to uphold Trump's promises to maintain funding for entitlement programs, ensure health insurance for all, and let Medicare negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Posted on January 18, 2017, at 4:08 p.m. ET

Rep. Tom Price testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on January 18, 2017.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Rep. Tom Price testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on January 18, 2017.

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Health Secretary refused to commit to several of Trump's key health care promises Wednesday during his first confirmation hearing.

Democrats repeatedly tried to pin down Georgia Rep. Tom Price, Trump's pick for Health and Human Services Secretary, on issues such as protecting entitlement programs, expanding health care coverage and changing how drug prices are negotiated. But Price refused to commit to any specific policies.

Price has previously introduced legislation in the House that would cut funding to both Medicaid and Medicare. But Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail that he would not cut Social Security programs if elected president.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, Price did not give in to repeated Democratic pressure to promise he would not cut those programs either.

"President-elect Trump was clear on his views. President-elect Trump said 'I am not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid'," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren. "Can you guarantee to this committee that you will safeguard President-elect Trump's promise?"

But Price repeatedly insisted that money is not the appropriate metric for assessing health care and would not commit to preserving funding.

"I believe the metric ought to be the care to the patients," he said. "We ought to put forward the resources to take care of the patients."

At times, the hearing got heated, with Democrats accusing Price of dodging basic questions and repeatedly pressing him on his stock portfolio, questioning whether he profited off of medical companies affected by legislation he wrote. Price shot back, saying he was offended by Democratic insinuations.

Price also disagreed with Trump's recent promise to expand health insurance to all Americans. Many Republicans in Congress have interpreted the pledge to mean giving everyone access to health care, rather than a universal health insurance plan.

That was the approach Price took as well on Wednesday. He said his goal is to provide the most affordable health care to the greatest number of people, but focused his statements on access and choice.

“I believe and I look forward to ... make certain that every single American has access to the highest-quality care and coverage that is possible," said Price.

Sen. Bernie Sanders shot back that Price's comment is a very different promise than universal health care. The president-elect told the Washington Post this weekend his administration would ensure "insurance for everybody."

“‘Access to’ does not mean that they are guaranteed health care. I have access to buying a $10 million home, I don’t have the money to do that," said Sanders.

Price also would not commit to letting Medicare negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, something Trump has supported. Nor would he vow to keep a federal rule allowing children to remain on their parents' insurance plans until the age of 26, a provision of the Affordable Care Act that Trump and many congressional Republicans say they want to keep.

Price will undergo a second confirmation hearing next Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee.

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