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Grapevine Analysis N.J. officials react to Health and Human Services nominee

Rep. Tom Price at his hearing before a U.S. Senate committee.-(UNITED STATES SENATE)

President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price, has been grilled twice by his peers in Congress, and the physician from Georgia has raised some concerns with his responses — some of which go directly against what Trump has said.President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price, has been grilled twice by his peers in Congress, and the physician from Georgia has raised some concerns with his responses — some of which go directly against what Trump has said.

For example, Price said during Tuesday’s hearing that he doesn’t believe vaccines cause autism. This doesn’t surprise the medical community, because of Price’s background as a doctor.

But there are other issues, such as Price saying he thinks that Medicare is broken, and that it should be changed to a voucher system.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey replied: “Changing Medicare from a commitment and entitlement to vouchers that may hope to create affordability, but doesn’t guarantee that, is a fundamental shift in the nature of how we take care of seniors in this country. Your answer doesn’t assuage me.”

In a statement following the hearing, Menendez highlighted the New Jersey impact of the Affordable Care Act on Medicare benefits.

“Since the ACA became law, New Jersey seniors have saved $1.33 billion in prescription drug costs as a result of the gradual closure of the Medicare donut hole,” he said. “In 2016 alone, 202,098 New Jerseyans saved $271,602,666, for an average savings of $1,344, the second-most savings of any state.”

Health providers in the state, who largely rely on Medicare and Medicaid to get paid, also are concerned by Price’s plan.

Larry Downs, CEO of the Medical Society of New Jersey, disagreed that Medicare is broken.

“By and large, Medicare is, at least ,an efficient way to get health care to seniors,” Downs said.

Because it is a public system, there is transparency, even though it is arduous to navigate at times, he said.

The New Jersey Hospital Association was also concerned with the proposed changes to Medicaid block grants.

“New Jersey has a strong charity care requirement — something that our state should be proud of — but block grants could become nothing more than cost-shifting from the feds to the state, and then from the state to health care providers,” the association said. “Block grants would come as a single sum of money, but with no fluidity to respond to changes in demand for charity care services, for economic downturns or any other variables that can affect a population’s need for support and health care services. It could also jeopardize key funding pools that we rely on in New Jersey such as graduate medical education and the Delivery System Reform Incentive Program, which is designed to reward high health care quality. We don’t know what the ‘base year’ would be for block grant funding, so that’s a piece of information that will be critical to ensure that Medicaid would be adequately funded. “

Despite the many reports about any potential changes to the ACA, hospitals and providers in the state are currently in limbo about how to react and prepare.

And the feeling within the health care community — ranging from health care providers to the many pharmaceutical companies which call Jersey home — is that the situation remains too volatile.

With regard to the pharma industry, the biggest concern is “a Tweet can wreak havoc” on stock prices and have a real effect on the innovation in the industry.

“There is concern about showmanship and that things will happen that are not well thought out,” another insider said.

Yet another insider said: “Trump announces things via Twitter, then has random comments about it in conferences or interviews, or his appointees will say something, but there is no cohesion in these plans. It makes it hard to plan for something that can change. The situation is fluid, is the general consensus.”

Anjalee Khemlani

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