WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Sunday claimed that the administration will continue to "follow the law" when asked whether it was his job to continue to implement the Affordable Care Act as it was intended.
But he would not say whether subsidies for low-income insurance policies would continue.
"Our job is to follow the law of the land and we take that mission very, very seriously," Price said on Sunday's "Meet The Press."
"The role of the Health and Human Services Department is to improve the health, the safety and the well-being of the American people," Price said. "And what we understand, what the American people understand is that their health and well-being are being harmed right now by the current law. And so our goal is to make — is to put in place, as well as the president's goal, is to put in place a law, a system, that actually works for patients. You can't do that under the current structure."
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers can offer plans with reduced deductibles for people with low incomes, but to offset the cost for the insurers, the federal government makes payments to these companies. Since the Trump administration took over, the government has been making these payments month-to-month, but some administration officials have indicated that the public shouldn't be optimistic that they will continue.
Asked specifically whether those payments will continue every month, Price declined to say, citing a court case on the subject.
"As you know and your viewers know, this is a case that's in court and the case is House v. Price," he said. "So I'm the defendant in that and therefore I can't talk about it."
In the early hours of Friday morning, the Senate failed to pass the GOP-proposed "skinny repeal" of Obamacare by a vote of 49-51. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cast votes against the bill.
The dramatic middle-of-the-night news followed a week of votes on health care amendments after Republicans successfully gathered enough votes to proceed to a debate.
Price would not concede that Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are now dead after this week.
"I don't accept the premise because we don't have a healthcare system — we've got about five healthcare systems," he said, pointing to Medicare, Medicaid, employer-sponsored coverage, the VA, and the individual market.
As leaders in Congress wrestle over how to move forward and while their August recess looms, Price urged them to do what many lawmakers have avoided as they've returned home.
"What we want Congress to do is to go home and talk to their constituents," he said.
Collins, one of the Senate Republicans who was most vocal against the process, called out the Trump administration on Sunday for threatening to pull the payments to insurers, arguing that it's fostering even more unpredictability in the markets.
"I'm troubled by the uncertainty that has been created by the administration," she said on "Meet The Press."
"When it comes to the subsidies that are given to very low-income people to help them with their co-pays and their deductibles, I hear this described by some as an 'insurance company bailout.' That's not what it is. It is vital assistance to people who make between 100 [percent] and 250 percent of the poverty level and allows them to afford their out-of-pocket costs, and the uncertainty about whether that subsidy is going to continue from month to month is clearly contributing to the destabilization of the insurance markets."
Collins also conceded that despite her votes against the proposed legislation this week, there are still major problems with the Affordable Care Act to address.
"I do not accept the premise that we should not proceed to reform the law," she said. She urged Congress to hold hearings on health care, listen to both sides of the aisle, and produce a "series" of bills that are aimed at fixing the "very real flaws" in the law.