President Donald Trump's nominee to run the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told a U.S. congressional panel on Tuesday that he does not support the privatization of Medicare.
Speaking before the Senate Committee on Finance, one of two committees that oversee the health department, Representative Tom Price, a Georgia orthopedic surgeon, also said his position reflects that of Trump, who has stated he does not want to cut Medicare.
Price, who has previously backed privatization of Medicare, told lawmakers his role as health secretary would be very different from his role as a congressman and that his job would be to execute the wishes of Congress.
"I would just convey to the Medicare population of this nation, they don’t have reason to be concerned," he said. "We look forward to assisting them in getting the care and coverage that they need."
Democrats also grilled Price on his plans for Medicaid. A senior Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, said in an interview on NBC's "Sunday Today" show that Trump's plan to replace the Affordable Care Act will include fixed payments from the government to the states to care for Medicaid patients.
These payments, known as block grants, contrast with the current system in which states share the actual cost of Medicaid enrollees with the federal government. Conway said converting to a block grant system would ensure that people in charge of administering the program are "those who are closest to the people" who need care.
Price has long advocated block grants for Medicaid but declined on Tuesday to overtly re-state his position, saying only that he would work to make sure "people have better healthcare, not less healthcare."
Price declined to say whether he supports the repeal of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, but said "any reform or improvement" would include the opportunity to gain access to quality healthcare.
Medicare is the federal health program for the elderly while Medicaid covers the poor.
(Reporting by Toni Clarke and Susan Cornwell in Washington; additional reporting by Caroline Humer in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)