We Can’t Afford to Go Backwards

By Jill Zorn

hhs-logoPresident-elect Donald Trump has selected Rep. Tom Price as his choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, a nominee with a radically conservative vision of health care that will “not just roll back five or 10 years of (health care) progress — but 50.”

The choice of Price is an indication that millions of Americans are at risk of losing their health coverage all together and millions more could find themselves paying more and getting less.

Plans for undermining the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare and employer-based insurance

Described as a “One-Man Death Panel for Obamacare,” Price, a Congressman and physician from Georgia is committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act.  He crafted the budget reconciliation bill that President Obama vetoed last year that repealed key ACA funding sources, a piece of legislation that is expected to serve as the model for a similar repeal bill to be introduced in January.  Budget reconciliation bills only require 51 votes in the senate.

His extremist replacement plan, the Empowering Patients First Act, is by far the “least generous, especially to the sick, old and poor” of any of the Republican replacement proposals put forth so far, and will leave millions without coverage.

But Price is not only dedicated to repealing the ACA and barely replacing it, many other Republicans in Congress are also chomping at the bit to make huge cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, too.

If Price and his colleagues have their way, Medicaid, a shared federal-state program, will be turned into a block grant program.   This will mean caps on the amount of money that the federal government contributes to states and starving the program of needed revenue over time.  This backing away by the federal government would eventually leave millions uninsured or with far worse coverage and cut provider rates significantly.  The impact on Connecticut residents who rely on Medicaid — currently over 750,000 people — could be devastating, requiring, “dismantling a lot of what we currently do.”

Price is a strong advocate of Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher program, capping what the federal government would pay for Medicare coverage for each individual.  He would also extend the Medicare age from 65 to 67.

Even employer-sponsored insurance would come under Price’s knife, as his plan would impose limits on how much employers can deduct from their taxes for paying for health insurance coverage for their workers.

In every case, the aim is to cut the federal government’s funding of health care and shift responsibility onto states, health care providers and individuals.

Views on women’s health and children’s health programs

Price has an extremist record on women’s health issues.  He opposes access to birth control without out-of-pocket costs, he is a staunch opponent of abortion rights and has voted to defund Planned Parenthood.  Given the power of the HHS Secretary to rescind and rewrite regulations, and make changes to grant programs run by the agency, he will have the opportunity to “take women back decades,” as Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards has said.

He has even voted against the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has always had strong bi-partisan support in Congress.

Reactions to Price’s nomination

Established groups like the American Medical Association (AMA), the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the American Hospital Association have all issued press statements supporting Price’s nomination and looking forward to working with him.

But many provider and health advocacy groups are pushing back against Trump’s nominee.  Thousands of signatures have been collected on this open letter declaring, “The AMA Does Not Speak for Us”.  New Twitter hashtags have appeared:  #NotMyAMA and #ShameOnYouAMA.  The National Physicians Alliance issued a statement opposing the nomination, citing “the harm his policies would inflict” on our patients.

Health advocacy organizations, including Families USA, Community Catalyst and National Partnership for Women and Families, have all issued statements criticizing the nomination.

Locally, Connecticut elected officials have expressed strong opposition to Price’s nomination.

Price’s nomination is not business as usual.  It is a wake-up call that health policy in Washington DC is about to take a giant step backwards, aiming to destroy the hard-fought progress we have made toward guaranteeing quality, affordable health coverage for all Americans.

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