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Former Trump Health Secretary Tom Price: Don’t expect lawmakers to tackle Obamacare until after midterms

Key Points
  • Lawmakers aren't likely to tackle the Affordable Care Act until after the midterm elections, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price tells the World Health Care Congress.
  • He says Democrats and Republicans appear to be waiting to see what the landscape looks like after midterms.
  • If Washington can't fix the ACA in a legislative manner, state flexibility could be an option, Price says.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Getty Images

Lawmakers aren't likely to tackle the Affordable Care Act until after the November midterm elections, former Trump Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Tuesday.

Addressing the World Health Care Congress, Price said regulatory changes to the law are more likely than any legislative ones in the near-term. If there is a legislative fix, he said, it would probably look like the Graham-Cassidy bill that failed last year.

The legislation would have given states control over health-care markets, including how they design them and how they spend federal money. But politics will likely get in the way of anything with the midterms on the way, Price said.

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"Both parties from my perspective have seemed to have looked at the lay of the land and feel it's important for them to wait until after the upcoming election to see what things look like then before going on with any legislative solution," he said.

Price led HHS last year as Republicans worked to repeal and replace the landmark health law, which is also known as Obamacare. He resigned in September after Politico uncovered he had been using taxpayer-funded private jets. Former drug company executive Alex Azar replaced him as HHS secretary.

If Washington can't fix the ACA with legislation, then it could give states flexibility, Price said. He cited both ends of the ideological spectrum, with some states requesting Medicaid waivers and others pushing bills that would establish individual mandates on the state level.

"That kind of flexibility may be the wisest way to proceed from a public policy standpoint: to allow states the opportunity to figure out what works best for their citizens," he said.

The ACA's individual mandate and Medicaid expansion were considered the two big stumbling blocks in last year's discussions, Price said. The sense was if they could solve either of those or move them to the side, lawmakers could move forward on issues where there was more common ground, he said.

"And honestly we weren't able to do that," he said.

Lawmakers repealed the individual mandate, which penalized people who did not purchase health insurance, in the GOP tax reform bill President Donald Trump signed into law in December. The change goes into effect next year.

The former HHS secretary argued that the move amounts to "nibbling at the sides" of the ACA.

Price did say, however, that he's one of many who think eliminating the requirement will harm the pool in the exchange market because younger and healthier people won't participate, therefore driving up costs.