"Tom Price, a Radical Choice for Health Secretary" - The New York Times

Published November 30, 2016

By The Editorial Board

In picking Representative Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump has chosen as his secretary of health and human services a man intent on systematically weakening, if not demolishing, the nation’s health care safety net.

Mr. Price, a Republican from Georgia, is a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health reform law, and beyond that, supports plans to slash Medicare and Medicaid, which cover tens of millions of elderly, disabled and low-income Americans. He is against a woman’s right to choose and has backed legislation to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding.

Mr. Trump and many Republicans have talked vaguely about plans to repeal the health reform law but suggest they might keep some popular parts of the law. Mr. Price makes no such noises. The detailed legislation he introduced most recently in 2015 would destroy the reform law and is a good indication of his philosophy in managing the nation’s largest health programs: cut benefits and leave millions with no health care at all.

His bill would, among other things, roll back the federally financed expansion of Medicaid in 31 states and the District of Columbia, taking coverage away from 14 million poor people. It would severely cut federal subsidies that help individuals and families buy policies on government-run health exchanges. The reduced subsidies would make it hard, if not impossible, for millions to afford the coverage they have gotten since the Affordable Care Act went into effect. And the bill would no longer require insurers to cover addiction treatment, birth control, maternity care, prescription drugs and other essential medical services.

As for coverage of pre-existing medical conditions — a key element of the current law, requiring insurers to sell plans to those with health problems — Mr. Price’s bill has that protection only for those who maintained continuous health coverage with any insurer for the previous 18 months. This means that insurers would not be required to sell an affordable plan to anyone who did not have coverage for, say, a month while he or she was between jobs.

Beyond his commitment to tearing apart the health care law, Mr. Price, who leads the House Budget Committee, published a budget proposallast year that would convert Medicaid into a block grant to state governments. This would reduce federal spending on the program by 34 percent by 2025, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Such a cut would inevitably cause states to offer fewer benefits and reduce the number of people covered, far beyond the 14 million who would lose their coverage if Medicaid expansion is rolled back.

Mr. Price also supports big changes to Medicare that could hurt older Americans by increasing their health care costs. A plan backed by Mr. Price and the House speaker, Paul Ryan, would turn Medicare, which covers the cost of medical care for people over 65, into a program in which people would buy private insurance through what is known as premium support. The idea is to turn Medicare into a voucher program, designed to limit federal spending while forcing seniors to bear more of the cost. Given that most American families have little or no retirement savings, this would be disastrous. It also stands in stark contrast to Mr. Trump’s campaign promise not to “cut” Medicare and Social Security.

It is impossible to know which parts of Mr. Price’s agenda will become priorities for the new administration. But we do know that he will now have a very powerful perch from which to advocate his radical positions.

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