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Donald Wants Orthopedic Surgeon Tom Price for HHS Secretary

2016-11-29

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Cat Picture, As Promised

Embattled presumptive President-elect Donald Drumpf (Trump) wants to nominate Dr. Tom Price, a Republican Congressional Representative, who at 62 has been an orthopedic surgeon representing a portion of Atlanta and a strident critic of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a rump department once known as Health, Education, and Welfare but stripped of its education responsibilities by Republicans who want to destroy federal supervision and support of the nation’s health, education, welfare, and in general all federal help for the lower 99 percent of the American public.

According to the New York Times (NYT), Dr. Price wants to repeal the ACA (ObamaCare) and substitute an extensive set of new rules:

The legislation Mr. Price has proposed, the Empowering Patients First Act, would repeal the Affordable Care Act and offer age-adjusted tax credits for the purchase of individual and family health insurance policies.

The bill would create incentives for people to contribute to health savings accounts; offer grants to states to subsidize insurance for “high-risk populations”; allow insurers licensed in one state to sell policies to residents of others; and authorize business and professional groups to provide coverage to members through “association health plans.”

As secretary, Mr. Price would be responsible for a department with an annual budget of more than $1 trillion, health programs that insure more than 100 million Americans, and agencies that regulate food and drugs and sponsor much of the nation’s biomedical research.

The NYT article states that Dr. Price has aligned himself generally with the positions of the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG), voluntary associations that include less than half of all practicing physicians.  The AMA was strongly opposed to Medicare at the time that it was established by President Johnson in 1965.  (A medical insurance program for all Americans was first proposed by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, and then by President Truman in November 1945, shortly after he succeeded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.)

Medicare had been feared to be a budget buster; in 2015 it covered over 55 million Americans and it laid out over $583 billion, or 14 percent of the total federal budget.  The ACA reduced expenses and projected costs dramatically, easing fears of stretching the budget.  Nonetheless, the Republicans strenuously decry the ACA, saying that it is a “government over-reach” or “boondoggle” that “infringes on American’s freedom.”   It appears that the Republicans object to the drive to “force” all Americans to have health insurance, disliking the “loss of freedom” that this represents. (Those quotes are from my own imagination but, I think, fairly represent Republican attitudes.)

Dr. Price has specifically decried “a stifling and oppressive federal government.”  His main complaint is that the law inserts itself into the doctor-patient decision making process.  He has presented the Republican’s objections vociferously, and is described in the NYT as a leading critic of the ACA.

Dr. Price has served six terms in the House of Representatives; previously he was a Georgia state senator.  Dr. Price has always been known for his retrogressive positions, as described in the NYT article:

He has introduced legislation that would make it easier for doctors to defend themselves against medical malpractice lawsuits and to (sic) enter into private contracts with Medicare beneficiaries. Under such contracts, doctors can, in effect, opt out of Medicare and charge more than the amounts normally allowed by the program’s rules.

He also supported legislation to bar federal funds for Planned Parenthood [PP], saying some of its clinics had been involved in what he called “barbaric” abortion practices.

Dr. Price’s attempts to defund PP have led some to label him “a grave threat to women’s health” (as stated by Cecile Richards, president of the PP Foundation of America.)  Gay rights groups also vehemently oppose him; he called the Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage “not only a sad day for marriage, but a further judicial destruction of our entire system of checks and balances.”  (Apparently he feels that judicial approval of same-sex marriage, rather than endorsing Constitutional fairness/equality in marriage, infringes on Congressional authority to enforce a basically unfair and religion-centered policy– which is absurd, because the Republican-controlled Congress is not about to recognize the basic equality and fairness in marriage doctrines that is required by the Constitution.)

To put the icing on the cake, so to speak, Dr. Price’s website describes him as a member of the Tea Party Caucus.  He has said that he is proud to support efforts to roll back a “vile liberal agenda.”  His use of the term “vile” goes to the heart of his attitude towards liberal attempts to provide health care for all Americans.

Parenthetically, the “liberal” ACA has not been particularly helpful in the effort to provide health care for everyone due to its lack of incisive policy changes that would remove barriers to access for poor people, as the following abbreviated comments explain:

The ACA has prompted a dramatic increase in the number of Americans with health insurance; unfortunately, many of these policies, primarily those for individuals, have very large deductibles, exceeding $5,000 in many cases.  The deductibles and other restrictions cause considerable financial problems for those without large amounts of free cash; these policies tend to represent purely catastrophic coverage.  Less affluent people still find it difficult to afford treatment for relatively minor illnesses and less serious health catastrophes.

Lack of health insurance, it is claimed, results in poor health due to lack of access to treatment; having insurance, however, does not readily provide access without other conditions which have not yet been met.  As we repeatedly stated in earlier posts, this problem has been nearly solved in European countries that boast comprehensive health care systems; these structures provide health and illness care nearly free and for a total societal cost of half or less that of the American “system.”  Discussion of these problems is far beyond the scope of this post and has been covered in prior posts on this blog; these discussions will be postponed to later posts that will reiterate the problems and their potential solutions.

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