From Our Future
Just because the Senate voted to make Tom Price the nation's top health care official doesn't mean that the debates that flared over his nomination should end.
This fight is just beginning.
The Senate confirmed Price as secretary of Health and Human Services in the middle of the night in a straight 52-47 vote along party lines. He was a deeply flawed nominee. Nancy Altman of Social Security Works, who is an attorney, reviewed his ethics and the legality of his actions in an post headlined, "Should Tom Price Be in Jail for Insider Trading?" PBS noted, somewhat more delicately, that Price has "shown little restraint in his personal stock trading."
But Price is not just ethically challenged. He is also ideologically charged. His policy views place him on the extreme right of health care debates.
Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the ACA
Price is committed to privatizing Medicare and cutting spending on the federal health insurance program, which covers seniors and people with permanent disabilities. If he has his way, the 57 million people Medicare serves can count on drastic cuts in coverage. He wants to limit Medicaid spending, which will harm the health of lower-income Americans. He wants to end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and opposes a woman's right to choose. He supports cutting Social Security payments through several mechanisms, including raising the retirement age.
However, Price opposes one of the best ways to cut health care costs. As I discussed earlier, Price also opposes having Medicare pay his fellow physicians (he is an orthopedic surgeon) based on outcomes or quality of care, despite the fact that the current system contains perverse incentives for over-treatment. He is a longtime ally of the American Medical Association, a group that opposed the creation of both Medicare and Social Security.
Opponents of Price's confirmation must now mobilize to fight the extremist policies he will pursue. But we should be mindful that the pre-Price status quo hasn't worked for most Americans.
Take, for example, Price's intention to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. A recent study concluded that repealing the ACA would lead to the deaths of 43,000 Americans per year. The ACA helped many people, but it would be unwise to ignore the fact that it fell far short of its intended goal.
A recent survey by the Commonwealth Fund found that the ACA improved Americans' ability to buy insurance on their own. But it wasn't a cure-all. For example:
-Some 63 million Americans went without health care for medication they needed because of the cost in 2016. That's an improvement over the 2012 figure of 82 million, but it's nowhere near good enough.
-One in three (31 percent) Americans said it was difficult or impossible to find a health plan that met their needs in 2016. That was down from the 53 percent who said that in 2012, but, again, still too high.
-The number of people who said they couldn't afford to see a doctor when they were sick fell from 29 percent in 2012 to 20 percent in 2016.