Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Nomination of Representative Tom Price to Serve As Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

The Cabinet nomination we are considering today is one of great consequence.  The reach of the Department of Health and Human Services is extensive, with direct and indirect consequences for the health and well-being of all Americans.  Like many other nominations that this body is rushing to confirm, Representative Price has not satisfied the many questions that have been raised about his ability to defend programs that are vital to so many Americans.  In fact, his record in Congress runs counter to these goals.

I have always believed that all Americans deserve access to quality, affordable health care. We made a tremendous step in this direction through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has extended health insurance coverage to more than 20 million Americans and their families through cancer screenings, immunizations, and preventative health care at little or no cost-share.  The law has ensured that vulnerable populations have access to quality care through state expansions of Medicaid.  The ACA stopped insurance companies from discriminating against women, seniors, and individuals with pre-existing conditions.  And it has already saved taxpayers billions in Federal health care costs, while bolstering reserves for our Nation’s Medicare and Social Security Trust funds. 

Unfortunately Representative Price does not see it this way.  As one of the first lawmakers to draft legislation calling for the full repeal of the ACA, Representative Price believes that health care should once again be under the largely unfettered control of big businesses and insurance companies.  He may say that he wants more Americans to have “access to affordable coverage,” but his record in the House shows otherwise.

It is not only the Affordable Care Act that Representative Price has put in the crosshairs, but virtually every federal health program.  Representative Price’s track record in opposing programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security is extensive.  As Congressman, he has proposed dissolving or block granting Medicaid, and replacing Medicare with vouchers, unadjusted for income, for consumers to purchase private plans on the market.  In November, he released an agenda proposing across-the-board cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  He has also long fought against women’s healthcare and access to family planning services.  And he has advocated banning abortions and abolishing funding for Planned Parenthood, which would make it far more difficult for women to have access health care. 

Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid are crucially important to patients and their families.  Medicaid provides vulnerable populations, including children, with essential and comprehensive health benefits, like mental health care and substance abuse treatment, which are required to be covered by Medicaid under the ACA.  And for decades, Medicare and Social Security have offered health care protections to low-income Americans and seniors, offering guaranteed resources in retirement. These are earned benefits that hardworking Americans have paid into throughout their lives. It is only fair that these people should expect to have these resources when they enter retirement.

We cannot deny the vital health protections of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security to our nation’s families.  And I cannot in good conscious support someone who does not share this same goal.  Lives, literally, are at stake.

I am also deeply concerned about allegations of Representative Price’s violation of the STOCK Act, which prohibits Members of Congress from making investment decisions based on information they receive as a result of their roles in Congress.  Serious questions of his all-too-coincidental trading with medical companies, after introducing legislation that supports these very companies, are troubling, and signal that this nominee is unfit to lead the very agency responsible for protecting the health of Americans.

I am glad the minority members of the Senate Finance Committee refused to join the business meeting scheduled to move Representative Price’s nomination last month.  There remain serious questions relating to potential conflicts he would have as Secretary.  Despite these concerns, Republicans on the Finance Committee made the unprecedented decision to change the rules and confirm Congressman Price without even one Democratic member present. This move runs counter the majority’s own rules.  But more importantly, it contradicts what we stand for in promoting the interests of Americans as their elected officials.

If confirmed, there are valid reasons for the American people to be concerned that Representative Price’s agenda will make its way into the Department of Health and Human Services, and Americans will suffer for that.  It is the responsibility of this agency to uphold and protect the well-being of the people of this great and good country, and it would be counter to this goal to allow someone like Representative Price to oversee such efforts. That is why I will strongly oppose his nomination, and I encourage all in the Senate to do the same.

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