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Outrage of the Month: Rep. Tom Price: Unfit to Be HHS Secretary

Health Letter, February 2017

By Michael Carome, M.D.


If you’re not outraged,
you’re not paying attention!

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Outrage of the Month: Rep. Tom Price: Unfit to Be HHS Secretary
Image: karen roach/Shutterstock.com

President Donald Trump would be hard-pressed to find a worse candidate to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) than Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). Throughout his career in Congress, Price consistently has championed policies that are incompatible with the fundamental mission of HHS, which is “to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans.”

Most troubling have been Price’s relentless efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), legislation that extended health insurance coverage to 20 million more people and reduced the uninsured rate from 16 percent to 9 percent.[1] In 2009, he introduced the misleadingly named Empowering Patients First Act, one of the first bills proposed to replace the ACA. The bill would implement a package of discredited policies, such as high-risk patient pools and individual tax credits for health insurance costs. The legislation also would allow insurers to once again deny coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions and would eliminate billions of dollars provided to states to expand Medicaid eligibility.[2]

The bill, which Price reintroduced in 2011, 2013 and 2015, would cause millions of people to suddenly lose their health insurance coverage. And the cruel result would be widespread, preventable suffering and deaths among the many people who could no longer afford health care.

In addition to the harming the poorest and most vulnerable patients in this country, Price’s legislation to repeal the ACA also would reward the wealthy physician specialists who have contributed more than $3 million to him since he was elected to Congress in 2004. For example, one section of the bill, titled “Lawsuit Abuse Reform,” would make it more difficult for patients injured by negligent physicians to obtain compensation through malpractice lawsuits.

During his contentious initial confirmation hearing on Jan. 18 before the Senate committee that oversees health issues, Price — himself a physician who should know better than anyone the importance of ensuring health care for all — was pressed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) regarding whether he believed all Americans, both rich and poor, have a right to health care. Price refused to reply yes or no, but instead said he believed all Americans should have “access to the highest-quality care and coverage that is possible.” Such a statement is a far cry from affirming that people have a right to health care. Indeed, as Sanders quipped, “Has ‘access to’ does not mean that they are guaranteed health care: I have access to buying a $10 million home; I don’t have the money to do that.”

In addition to seeking the dismantling of the ACA, Price also wants to effectively destroy traditional Medicare, a lifesaving program for America’s seniors. He has been a staunch proponent of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) plan to privatize Medicare by converting it to a “premium support” voucher program. This change would dramatically increase out-of-pocket health care costs for seniors, making medical care unaffordable for many, while at the same time bolstering the profits of the private insurance corporations.

The Senate must reject the nomination of Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services. His policy prescriptions would be toxic for millions of Americans and would move the nation’s health care system backward.


[1] Obama B. United States health care reform. JAMA. 2016;27(6):1718-1727.

[2] Pear R. Tom Price, H.H.S. nominee, drafted remake of health law. New York Times. November 29, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/29/us/tom-price-trump-health-secretary.html. Accessed January 19, 2017.