Health and Science

Health secretary pledges to uphold Obamacare, but promote it, not so much

HHS Secretary Tom Price on upholding Obamacare
HHS Secretary Tom Price on upholding Obamacare

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said he will uphold the Affordable Care Act because it is the law of the land, but when it comes to promoting Obamacare enrollment and enforcing some of its regulations, he was non-committal.

"I am committed to fulfilling the oath that I took, which is upholding the law of the land," Price said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Trump administration's proposed health department budget.

But Democrats pressed the health secretary on whether he's committed to upholding both the letter and the spirit of the law, or whether he'll be using his discretion to undermine regulations, such as not enforcing the individual mandate or not promoting Obamacare enrollment.

In January, the Trump administration cut advertising for Obamacare enrollment in the final weeks of the sign-up period for 2017 plans.

"Do you intend to halt advertising again this year — yes or no?" asked ranking member Rose DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut.

"I haven't had any discussions about that. That was done prior to my arrival," Price replied.

When pressed about whether he'll maintain funding for advertising this year, he said "what we're committed to is making certain that the American people have access to affordable coverage."

"Will you continue that effort to disallow advertising to let people know about enrollment?" DeLauro pressed in a follow-up question.

"As I said, we're committed to making certain that every American has access to affordable coverage," Price replied, adding that he "wouldn't commit to any specific entity because many of these things that are allegedly increasing the coverage don't."

Price also avoided specifically saying whether he would support and enforce the ACA's essential health benefits requirement that includes maternity benefits.

"What we believe is it's important for every single American to be able to choose to buy the coverage they want," he said.

When asked about the administration's commitment to funding cost-sharing subsidies, which help fund out-of-pocket costs for low-income Obamacare enrollees, the secretary said he was not able to comment. Insurers have argued that the cost-sharing funds are key to maintaining stability in the exchange market.

During his confirmation hearings last month, Democrats criticized Price over investments in health-care companies he made while he promoted legislation as a congressman.

Under questioning, Price said he has complied with his pledge to divest those investments.

Correction: Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price says he would not commit to any specific part of the ACA "because many of these things that are allegedly increasing the coverage don't." An earlier version misstated his remarks.