WASHINGTON — Is the health care bill House Republicans passed last month “mean”?
President Trump reportedly thinks so. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price won’t say.
“It’s not a yes or no answer,” Price said in response to a question from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) during a hearing before the Senate’s health appropriations subcommittee on Thursday.
“All I know is what I read in the paper on that,” he told Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, another Democrat. “I wasn’t at that meeting.”
The meeting in question was a gathering among Trump and a group of Republican senators involved in crafting their chamber’s version of a bill to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act. During the closed-door session, the president was reported to have urged the lawmakers to craft a version of the bill that would be more “generous” than the legislation approved by their House counterparts.
Questions about those remarks left Price, who has now appeared before three congressional committees in the last week, in the awkward position of neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the president.
A month ago, the White House’s position on the AHCA was unambiguous — immediately after its passage, Trump hosted dozens of Republicans, along with Price, in the Rose Garden to celebrate.
“They’re not even doing it for the party,” Trump said then of the Republicans who worked to pass the bill. “They’re doing it for this country.”
The Congressional Budget Office projected that the AHCA as passed by the House would cause an additional 23 million Americans to become uninsured by 2026. A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services actuary disagreed — per its recent analysis, the bill would increase the country’s uninsured ranks by 13 million in the same span.
“What I know about the president’s concerns are that he wants the American people to have access to the highest quality care,” Price said Thursday.
Details of the Senate’s version of the bill are unknown. The bill is being written behind closed doors by a small group of Republicans, a process that has drawn Democrats’ scorn.
“Do you think that that 13-person group would benefit from the perspective of a woman?” asked Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). While the group has since been expanded to include more senators, the original group of Republicans was exclusively white and male.
In response, Price told Schatz that he is not involved in the particulars of the legislative talks and said he could not list the 13 senators initially included in the working group.
Republicans in recent weeks have said they hoped to vote on a health bill before the July 4 congressional recess, but some have voiced uncertainty as to whether that will happen.