Donald Trump's latest cabinet pick endangers the health and well-being of millions of Americans. From tax cuts to surgeons' income, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia -- Trump's choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services -- has repeatedly fought for the wealthy and privileged at the expense of ordinary Americans.
As a trained physician, Price is supposedly bound by the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm." Unfortunately, he'll soon be in a position to do a great deal of harm -- and his widely publicized desire to gut Medicare is only part of the problem.
Self-Serving Hard-Right Rhetoric
The New York Times, along with other news outlets, reported that Price's policy positions are "often aligned with the positions of the American Medical Association and the Medical Association of Georgia."
That places him in an old, if hardly illustrious, tradition.
In 1939 the AMA's executive director wrote an editorial declaring that "all forms of security, compulsory security, even against old age and unemployment ... represent a taking away of individual responsibility, a weakening of national caliber, a definite step toward either communism or totalitarianism."
The editorial's floridly self-serving language used phrases like "peasant medicine" and "medical Soviets" to describe programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Nor did the AMA's far-right proselytizing end with the New Deal. In the early 1960s it hired a fading actor named Ronald Reagan to cut a record entitled "Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine," which was sent to AMA "ladies' auxiliaries" (assumed to be doctors' wives, rather than doctors themselves).
The "ladies" were instructed to "put on the coffeepot," play the record, and then bring out stationery so their friends could pen anti-Medicare letters to Congress.
The recorded Reagan warned that Medicare was "socialized medicine" and intoned that, should it pass, "one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free."
That campaign, "Operation Coffee Cup," was an early example of the viral marketing -- and fake news -- that brought us President Trump. The record failed to derail Medicare, but launched Reagan's political career.
When it comes to extremist AMA rhetoric, Tom Price is partying like it's 1939. He argued that the Affordable Care Act "removes the very freedom and liberty that our founders fought for at its very core," said that its treatment of doctors represents the "subjugation of ... a formerly free citizen," and claimed that it creates "a system where Washington decides what you can get, what kind of treatment you can get for yourself and for your family."
Added Price, in words that would not have seemed out of place in that Depression-era editorial:
"That's not America, that's not the America that you and I love, that's not the America our founders fought for, that's not the America that recognizes that our liberty and our freedom comes from God almighty and not from the federal government."
Remember, Price isn't talking about the NSA. He's describing a program that relies on for-profit health insurance and physicians in private practice.
Making Providers Richer
As a Tea Partier, Price wants to cut all rich people's taxes. But he seems especially dedicated to enriching his professional colleagues. As business magazine Forbes reports, Price is an "outspoken critic of the shift by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to pay doctors based on quality and outcomes."
Studies at the Dartmouth Medical School have shown wide geographical differences in the number of surgical procedures performed -- differences that can't be explained by patient need. Dartmouth researchers examined rates of knee replacement and back surgery, for example, and found "marked variation in procedure rates."
Under the current system, orthopedic surgeons like Price make more money by performing more surgeries. That gives them an enormous financial incentive to place personal gain above patient health. But Price is adamantly opposed to the Affordable Care Act's modest efforts to change those incentives. As the New York Times reported,
"(Price) complained this year that Obama administration officials were trying to 'commandeer clinical decision-making' by forcing doctors to participate in experiments that test new ways of paying for prescription drugs, hip and knee replacement operations, and heart surgery for Medicare patients."
"Stop these mandatory demonstration projects," Price has demanded.
Unsurprisingly, Price also wants to make it harder to sue doctors. And as physicians are enriched, millions will suffer from Price's proposed ACA 'replacement,' a hodge-podge of failed conservative ideas -- including a tax break that neglects lower-income Americans.
Trump and Price: Two Against Medicare
It is now crystal-clear that Donald Trump was lying when he promised not to cut Medicare. Price has been fighting to gut the program for years, promoting Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to dismantle it and replace it with vouchers for the purchase of private insurance.
If Price and Trump succeed, Medicare will no longer need to (or be able to) slow the rate of health care cost growth. That will hurt all ordinary Americans, regardless of age, by making their medical care more expensive.
But it will be great for surgeons like Tom Price.
Under Price's plan, vouchers will cover less and less of health care's cost each year, until seniors' insurance premiums finally exceed older Americans' total Social Security income.
That's why retiree and disability advocates are shocked and dismayed by this nomination. The Alliance for Retired Americans described it as "a declaration of war on seniors, retirees and anyone who is counting on having guaranteed health care benefits when they retire after a lifetime of hard work."
Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, called it "classic bait and switch," adding: "Trump ran on a promise, repeatedly made, not to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Price has spent years working to destroy all of these vital programs. This nomination is a betrayal of the American people."
To be fair, Price also voted against protecting SCHIP health insurance coverage for 6 million children. That shows that his lack of empathy knows no age limit.
Hazardous to Your Health
Other Tom Price policies endanger your health, too, although he won't be directly responsible for them in his new position.
Price voted to cut funds for women's preventive health and opposes women's reproductive rights. He's voted to block reasonable gun control measures, despite our nation's high rates of gun injury and death. He voted against regulating tobacco as a drug.
Price's opposition to environmental regulation and support for fossil fuel exploitation harms public health both in the US and worldwide. His opposition to marijuana legalization limits patients' treatment options.
Trump's opposition to Medicare cuts distinguished him from other Republican contenders and helped him win the presidency. With this choice, he's made it clear that his campaign was a lie. Tom Price's nomination will have an adverse impact on Americans' health.
If someone tells you someday that this year's election made them sick, they may be telling the truth.