Healthcare researchers urge Senate to reject Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services

(Photo Credit: Jasleen Kaur via Flickr Creative Commons)

Hundreds of healthcare researchers from across the country released an open letter to lawmakers Wednesday, opposing President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Georgia Republican Representative Tom Price begins confirmation hearings today, as efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, advance. Some lawmakers, including a handful among the GOP, have expressed concern about eviscerating the healthcare law without a replacement in place – and have indicated that crafting a replacement proposal could take some time.

New numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office say that about 18 million people could lose insurance in the first year following a repeal. But Trump says he has no plans to wait for Congress to craft a plan, he’ll proffer a proposal soon after his Health and Human Services is in place.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is president of Center for Global Policy Solutions and longtime healthcare equity advocate and policy expert. She joins FSRN’s Nell Abram to discuss Trump’s nominee for the post and his plan for a post-Obamacare law.

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Nell Abram: First, hundreds of healthcare researchers are appealing to the U.S. Senate to reject Representative Tom Price’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services on numerous fronts. A longtime opponent of the ACA, Price has offered numerous healthcare proposals in Congress, including the so-called Empowering Patients First Act (EPFA). If this plan were used to replace the ACA – what would the affect be?

Maya Rockeymoore: It would decimate the Affordable Care Act. In fact, it would remove the individual mandate, which would make the Affordable Care Act impossible to maintain because you don’t have enough healthy people in the system in order to actually make sure that the financials – the underlying financials – of the system work. It would also end coverage for preexisting conditions, which is a terrible thing because then it allows healthcare providers – health insurance companies – to discriminate against those who already have healthcare challenges, and that simply is untenable and unethical. It would basically promote substandard coverage because it allows insurance companies to actually put lifetime limits on healthcare coverage, which actually undermines the whole purpose of health insurance because if you go into the hospital and need an open heart surgery, nobody has enough funds in their pockets to actually be able to pay out-of-pocket for something so catastrophic. And so health insurance steps into the gap. By promoting a lifetime cap on coverage, it actually endangers all Americans who would rely on that health insurance coverage to get them through traumatic times. And then, of course, it restructures things like the healthcare tax benefit by offering tax credits to help pay for health insurance, but instead of the ACA offering these tax credits based on need, it would use based on age. So people with little money to be able to purchase health insurance wouldn’t be able to offer enough – would not be able to have enough resources to offset the costs. Basically, what Tom Price’s proposal does is undermine every aspect of the Affordable Care Act that makes it a care act and it is, I think, an anti-care proposal.

NA: Dr. Rockeymoore, you served as the board chair for the National Committee to preserve Social Security and Medicare. Let’s talk more about costs. You mentioned changes to the healthcare tax credits. But Price’s EPFA plan includes a number of components that could hit pocketbooks even harder, particularly senior citizens and low-income Americans. What can you tell us about Price’s position on Medicare?

MR: Tom Price actually proposes to privatize Medicare by offering them a voucher to buy private health insurance. Basically, a voucher is like a capping on health insurance. It gives you a set amount that you can use per year and he does have the voucher – actually, the value of the voucher – rising over time, but the value of those vouchers would rise more slowly than the cost of healthcare itself, which would actually place an ever-larger cost burden on seniors, which means that they would have to come out of pocket to cover the difference between the cost of their health care and what the voucher provides. It’s basically, again, an anti-care proposal that would undermine Medicare itself and we oppose it.

NA: If, in fact, the ACA provision that insurers can’t refuse to cover individuals with preexisting health conditions is repealed – what would that mean for children whose parents can’t get insurance?

MR: Oftentimes, the children get cut out of the equation, they can not get on the plan at all. So that leaves entire families stranded without access to care. What’s sad about it is that Tom Price also proposes cuts to Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Plan, which are important, especially for low and moderate income children. He does it in the same way that he would seek to voucherize Medicare, basically he proposes to block grant Medicaid and CHIP and not giving and annual cost of living adjustment, meaning that the block grant would be a set amount for the individual states to administer over time and, as the cost of care goes up over time, the block grant amount would not change. This is dangerous on several fronts because that would eliminate the ability of more children to be under coverage. The states would drastically tighten the number of people who would qualify for this care over time, which means that more and more children would be left out and vulnerable to sickness and death, and disease. So, literally, on all fronts, we need a Secretary of Health and Human Services who actually believes in health and human services. But from Tom Price’s Medicaid and Child Health Insurance proposals, to his Medicare proposals, to his so-called Empowering Patients First Act, all of these pieces of legislation that he offers, seek to undermine care and undermine the ability of people to have quality access to quality healthcare.

NA: And other vulnerable populations? What about women’s healthcare, or coverage for LGBTQ individuals?

MR: Representative Price is actually hostile to women’s health and he’s hostile to LGBTQ health. He actually opposes Planned Parenthood – he seeks to defund Planned Parenthood – which is how millions of women gain access to healthcare, reproductive healthcare and just basic healthcare services, even mammograms and breast care they get through Planned Parenthood. And yet, Tom Price would seek to defund Planned Parenthood so that low income women and teens would be without reliable access to things like birth control and breast exams and pap smears and other things. These are things that are very basic to a woman’s healthcare – he opposes that. He also opposes access to contraception, which is crazy. He would eliminate the regulation requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptive costs, which discriminates against women and is absolutely terrible. He’s a long term foe of civil rights and opposes LGBTQ rights. He has a zero rating from the Human Rights campaign and he is someone who seeks to allow discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. He would seek to eliminate those protections that were available to him under the Affordable Care Act. He is essentially someone who believes in discrimination, someone who is against women’s health and LGBTQ health, and we oppose him on those grounds as well.

NA: Finally – what else is important for us to know about this nominee and his qualifications to lead the nation’s Department of health and Human Services?

MR: I think that we should highlight the fact that all of the proposals that Tom Price is offering actually help big insurance companies and the corporations over the people. We certainly need someone who’s leading health and human services who believes in health and human services for people, who believes in actually improving the health standard of the population and access to care for the population. And Tom Price fails on all of those measures. So not only does he have ethical challenges, not only is he seeking to undermine all of the pillars of progress that we have made in this country, from Medicare to Medicaid to the Affordable Care Act, but he also is someone who actively discriminates against vulnerable populations. And for all of those reasons, and more, we simply oppose his candidacy.

NA: Confirmation hearings for Representative Price continue next week. He’ll go before the Senate Finance Committee, which will ultimately vote on his nomination deciding if it will advance to the full Senate.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is a longtime public health policy advocate, author and currently serves as president of Global Policy Solutions. She joined us by telephone from Washington, D.C.

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