Senate Finance Committee Republicans voted in approval (14-0) of HHS Secretary nominee, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), on Wednesday without any Democratic votes. Price's nomination will now proceed to the full Senate for the final votes in the confirmation process.
Democratic senators on the committee had taken the "unprecedented" move to boycott the markup scheduled on Tuesday and cited concerns over reports on an offer Price received to buy stock for Innate Immunotherapeutics at a discount.
As Democrats didn't have enough votes to permanently block Price's nomination, delay tactics were their only real weapons.
Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was said to be livid when no Democrats showed up to vote on Tuesday. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) said, “We did not inflict this kind of obstructionism on President Obama,” the Denver Post reported. However, in 2013 Republicans delayed a committee vote for Gina McCarthy, who had been nominated by President Obama to head the Environmental Protection Agency, using the same tactic.
Hatch said the Republican Senators also had to take an "unprecedented step" on Wednesday to vote on Price since his confirmation process had already lasted longer than those for the past two HHS Secretaries. Democrats' decision to boycott was not communicated to anybody on the Republican side until seconds before the markup was scheduled to begin, according to Hatch.
The "Questions for the Record" document was recently released for the Jan. 24 Senate committee hearing. Weighing it at 136 pages, it gives more insights into Price's thoughts on current healthcare developments, including:
On MACRA: "If confirmed, I commit to work closely with the CMS Administrator to make sure we implement MACRA in a way that is easy to understand, minimizes burden, and is fair to all affected providers."
On ACOs: "As a doctor, I appreciate the goal behind the creation of the ACO model: better patient care. As a legislator, I would agree their successes have been modest to date, and there are some challenges they face as well. ACOs are a tool in the toolbox to help ensure high quality, low cost health care for beneficiaries. They are not a silver bullet to all of our country’s delivery system challenges. If confirmed, I plan to work with the CMS Administrator to ensure that we learn from ACOs’ successes and challenges to date as we chart the path forward."
On making a rural Medicare beneficiary’s home an eligible originating site for the use of telehealth services: "This is certainly something that we will take under consideration. Telehealth holds great promise, particularly for rural areas experiencing physician shortages and for patients with limited mobility. At the same time, allowing a beneficiary’s home to qualify as an eligible originating site could create significant Program Integrity challenges. If confirmed, I will certainly direct CMS to take another look at this issue to ensure we are doing everything we can to maximize beneficiary access to care with appropriate safeguards against fraud."
On interoperability: "Electronic information sharing, as supported by interoperable health information technology systems, impacts overall care and the patient experience. Patients and providers often rely on the fast exchange of relevant, trustworthy information across health IT systems. Methods to improve flexibility and patient engagement, and clear the way for increased health IT interoperability should be examined as we work to improve healthcare delivery. I look forward to continued discussions with you regarding various means to improve the current health IT infrastructure."