The Georgia Republican congressman being nominated to head the Health and Human Services Department next year under a new Trump administration would gut Obamacare and replace it with plans that favor the well-to-do, two experts argued Wednesday.
They say Rep. Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon, would free insurance companies to return to some of their worst abuses of patients and take away subsidies that help the poor afford medical care.
If he had his way, he’d funnel federal money to people who do not need it, the two former HHS officials who are now health policy experts argue in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Price has sponsored legislation that supports making armor-piercing bullets more accessible and opposing regulation on cigars, and he has voted against regulating tobacco as a drug,” Sherry Glied, dean of the graduate school of public service at New York University, and Richard Frank, a health care policy professor at Harvard Medical School, wrote in their joint commentary.
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Both were also HHS assistant secretaries under Democratic presidents.
“He has also voted against funding for combating AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis; against expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program; and in favor of allowing hospitals to turn away Medicaid and Medicare patients seeking nonemergency care if they could not afford copayments,” they wrote.
“He opposes stem-cell research and voted against expanding the National Institutes of Health budget and against the recently enacted 21st Century Cures Act, showing particular animus toward the cancer Moonshot,” they added.
Two other medical doctors have been HHS secretary: Otis Bowen under former president Ronald Reagan, and Louis Sullivan under George H.W. Bush. That should be a plus, Glied and Frank said.
“In their work at HHS, both men, serving in Republican administrations, drew on a long tradition of physicians as advocates for the most vulnerable, defenders of public health and enthusiastic proponents of scientific approaches to clinical care,” they wrote.
“Tom Price represents a different tradition.”
Price's office did not immediately return a request for comment from NBC News.
Trump’s pick of Price has been praised because the congressman is a physician, a rare choice to head HHS — the agency that oversees the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, Medicare and Medicaid. HHS is also where the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, was written and is implemented.
Price may want more accountability in health care, they said. “But as compared with his predecessors’ actions, Price’s record demonstrates less concern for the sick, the poor, and the health of the public and much greater concern for the economic wellbeing of their physician caregivers,” they wrote.
Price has been a leading voice for the repeal of Obamacare, which not only set up marketplaces for people to buy subsidized health insurance, but which ended insurance company practices of turning away sick customers and capping payments once patients got expensive to treat. Obamacare rules also require insurance companies to provide preventive care such as cancer screenings and vaccinations without charging patients anything.
Price has criticized Obamacare, saying it’s not offering enough options.
“The Obama administration has also admitted that 20 percent of those shopping for insurance on the Obamacare exchanges will have only one coverage option to choose from. That is not actually a choice,” Price wrote on the House Republicans' blog on Nov. 1.
“Furthermore, those plans that are offered come with narrower networks meaning fewer choices of physicians and less access to quality care.”
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But Glied and Frank argue that Price’s replacement ideas would not help people who need it most.
“Price’s plan would withdraw almost all the ACA’s federal consumer protection regulations, including limits on insurer profits and requirements that plans cover essential health benefits,” Glied and Frank said. His plan would eliminate the expansion of Medicaid that states have used to cover many low-income working adults, and replace it with flat tax credits based on age, not on income.
“In sum, Price’s replacement proposal would make it much more difficult for low-income Americans to afford health insurance,” they wrote. “It would divert federal tax dollars to people who can already buy individual coverage without subsidies and substantially reduce protections for those with preexisting conditions.”