By Mindy Yochelson
HHS Secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) has been a staunch critic of the CMS's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, but indicated in recent comments to the Senate Finance Committee he is willing to work with the center to find ways to save money and improve care.
The center is “providing significant opportunity for testing new models for health-care financing and delivery,” he said. He told the committee members he planned to work with the CMMI to ensure it “tests innovative models that reduce costs and improve quality for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.”
Price, as the House Budget Committee chairman, held a hearing last September where he and other Republicans said the center had too much authority and it had yet to show savings despite spending billions. His comments on the CMMI are an indication he'd be willing to support the goals of the center.
Price's recent comments, obtained by Bloomberg BNA, were in response to questions from Finance Committee members prior to their Feb. 1 vote on his nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Price is expected to be confirmed by the Senate by Feb. 10.
In his comments, Price indicated he was a fan of Medicare managed care and said Medicare Advantage organizations should have more room in offering benefits. “I would seek to ensure Medicare Advantage remains a stable option for beneficiaries and that Medicare Advantage plans are afforded the flexibility to design plans that beneficiaries want and give them the coverage they want,” he said.
It's irresponsible not to “make certain that we save and strengthen Medicare.”
HHS nominee Tom Price
A theme of Price's responses is Medicare is running out of funds and action is needed to save the program.
The nominee didn't say he was against raising the age of Medicare eligibility from 65. But he warned the Medicare Trustees have said the program “in less than 10 years, is going to be out of the kind of resources that will allow us as a society to keep the promise to beneficiaries of the Medicare program.” He said it's irresponsible not to “make certain that we save and strengthen Medicare.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a Finance Committee member, is concerned over Price's comments on raising the eligibility age, Brown's spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 9.
While some professionals may be able to work until they are 67, “tell that to waitresses and nurses and steelworkers who spend all day working on their feet,” Brown said on the Senate floor.
Price didn't respond directly when asked if he would advocate for premium support as a means of extending the Medicare trust fund.
“I would advise the Administration that we convey to the Medicare population that they do not have reason to be concerned and that we look to assisting them in getting the care they need and the caregivers that they need too,” he said.
The answer provoked a strong reaction from one advocacy group.
“Rep. Tom Price should not be trusted to protect the Medicare program or its beneficiaries,” Max Richtman, president and chief executive officer, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 9. “His well-documented history of advocating for privatization and cost-shifting cannot be camouflaged by his non-specific answers to the questions.”
A spokesman for another Democratic committee member, Ben Cardin (D-Md.), told Bloomberg BNA the responses “were wholly devoid of tangible solutions on issues related to raising the eligibility age, therapy caps and high drug costs faced by many beneficiaries.”
The therapy cap requirement imposes a $1,980 limit for beneficiaries on physical therapy and speech-language pathology and a separate $1,980 cap on occupational therapy. Congress has repeatedly extended an exception process that allows beneficiaries to receive an unlimited amount of rehabilitation services to the extent deemed medically necessary. The latest extension expires Dec. 31.
Brown and Cardin asked Price if he would support repeal of the caps.
Price said he would “seek to understand the competing objectives and issues motivating the current CMS policy.” Perhaps different approaches “provide greater quality care at reduced cost with more respect for the individual needs of each patient in consultation with their doctor,” he said.