Tom Price walks back comments saying ACA mandate repeal will drive up costs

A day after saying the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s individual mandate would cause costs to rise for enrollees remaining in ACA plans, former HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, claimed his remarks were taken out of context.

“Repealing the individual mandate was exactly the right thing to do. Forcing Americans to buy something they don’t want undermines individual liberty as well as free markets,” Price said in a statement released through the Job Creators Network, a pro-business group for which he is a healthcare fellow. “The only fair and effective way to bring down healthcare costs is to allow markets to create more choices for consumers and small businesses.”

In a May 1 speech at the World Health Care Congress, Price said the move by Republicans to zero out the penalty for not having health insurance coverage through their 2017 tax cut law was “nibbling at the sides” of the ACA and then clearly stated it would raise costs.

“There are many, and I am one of them, who believe that that actually will harm the pool in the exchange market because you'll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market,” he said. “And, consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks in that market.”

The remarks attracted attention because they contradicted Price’s stances and statements both as a congressman and during his short tenure as HHS Secretary. As he was championing ultimately unsuccessful efforts to fully repeal the ACA, Price told ABC News in July 2017 the mandate “is one of those things that actually is driving up the cost for the American people in terms of coverage.”

Price’s remarks at the conference are in line with predictions from within government and the insurance industry. Before the tax cut law passed, the American Academy of Actuaries warned premiums would rise, the ACA market’s risk pool would worsen and insurers may exit exchanges in fear of taking heavy losses. The Congressional Budget Office predicted the ACA market would be stable without the mandate, but 13 million more people would be uninsured by 2027.