Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told a group of health care professionals during a conference in Washington that consumers will likely see their health care costs rise because the Republicans’ federal tax overhaul eliminated the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Democrats picked up on Price’s comments, saying they mirrored the party’s case for keeping the Affordable Care Act. Price then said in an op-ed that his comments were reported out of context and added that the elimination of the mandate will help “tens of millions of Americans struggling to pay inflated health-care costs.” (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tom Price talks U.S. GOP health plan gap with Cobb conservatives

The failure to replace the Affordable Care Act with a new plan during the two years Republicans had control of Congress under President Donald Trump “is one of my great sadnesses from my time up in D.C.,” Tom Price told an audience of Cobb County conservatives Monday night. Price, of Roswell, is a former Congressman and was Trump’s initial Secretary of Health and Human Services.

“You can’t beat something with nothing,” he said.

Democrats are widely credited with using the health care issue to dominate the mid-term elections in November. They gained 40 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and control of that chamber. That included Price’s old seat, which he last won by 24 points. It’s now held by Democrat Lucy McBath.

Price was speaking Monday to the Franklin Roundtable, the new name of the Georgia Tea Party, held at the Cobb County GOP headquarters. The event marked the anniversary of the tea party movement’s founding ten years ago, also on April 15, tax day. Speaking to a mostly empty room of 17 people, Price recalled the energy of those first rallies and urged audience members to engage, network, and reignite the movement’s enthusiasm.

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The tea party’s legacy is strong though, in the unyielding fiscal positions some Republicans now stake out in Congress.

It made agreeing on a health plan complicated.

“Republicans are independent thinkers,” Price told the group. “You get it coming from all sides.”

In the end, the GOP was able to neuter the ACA’s individual mandate that required all Americans to have health insurance. But their efforts to repeal the entire ACA fell short. About 20 conservative states’ leaders have now turned to the courts to strike down the ACA, including Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. They have won an initial battle in a federal court in Texas and are likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As Trump’s health secretary, Price tried to advance a Republican health plan, until his abrupt departure less than a year into the job amid a scandal over charter flights. He said the press had unfairly portrayed Republicans as not supporting insurance coverage for pre-existing health conditions, which he called “nonsense.”

“You make it so those plans are affordable,” he said, and let consumers choose. “That’s one of the principles of health care.” He would not say whether he supported a government mandate like the ACA’s requiring plans to cover pre-existing conditions.

And if Republicans had succeeded in passing a health plan, could they have kept the House?

“Oh I’m past my days of political conjecture,” Price said.

Price also did not address his work advising newly elected Gov. Brian Kemp, which has borne fruit. Kemp has won passage of a new state law that could allow him to experiment with Medicaid pilot projects through “waivers” that could cover more of Georgia’s poor. Price was seen in the Georgia Senate this spring watching the bill, SB 106, pass there.

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