Donald Trump’s selection of Obamacare critic Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as the next Secretary of Health and Human Services has exacerbated fears the next administration will roll back health advances for LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS.
In a statement announcing the pick, the president-elect said he chose Price because of his background as a physician and as part of the effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
“Chairman Price, a renowned physician, has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on healthcare policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity,” Trump said. “He is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American. I am proud to nominate him as secretary of health and human services.”
One of Obamacare’s chief opponents, the six-term House Republican has pushed legislation to undo the law, including a measure in 2013 that would have prohibited the Internal Revenue Service from affording tax credits to offset the cost of insurance premiums.
An estimated 20 million people are insured under the Affordable Care Act and health advocates fear those people could lose access to care if the president-elect and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) make good on their pledge to repeal the law.
Transgender advocates have expressed concerns about repeal of Section 1557, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in health care. The Obama administration has issued a rule interpreting that language to apply to transgender people, including for transition-related care and gender reassignment surgery, as well as gender non-conforming people.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was among those expressing concerns about the choice of Price as head of the Department of Health & Human Services.
“We continue to be concerned with President-elect Trump’s selection of anti-LGBT extremists like Rep. Price for cabinet positions,” Keisling said. “Though a physician, Rep. Price has consistently worked against a fair and just healthcare system. Rep. Price is a dangerous choice for secretary of health and human services.”
As head of HHS, Price could blunt the Obama administration’s rule prohibiting anti-trans discrimination in health care with an exemption allowing religious-based organizations to refuse care — transition-related or otherwise — to transgender people. Anti-LGBT advocates expressed consternation that rule had no religious exemption and the provision is facing court challenges on the basis it ignores religious concerns.
The potential loss of the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare is a source of anxiety for HIV/AIDS advocates. The program, which Republicans have threatened to change to a block-grant system, provides care for an estimated 40 percent of people with the disease in the United States.
Hilary McQuie, director of U.S. policy and grassroots mobilization for the HIV/
“In collusion with Paul Ryan, he will try to dismantle the safety net and healthcare system that has allowed us to build towards ending the epidemic,” McQuie said. “We are going to have to mount a huge response to secure Medicaid, Medicare, HOPWA, ADAP, CDC and every other acronym that represents healthcare and social services for people in the U.S.”
In terms of LGBT issues, Price has an abysmal record. In 2006, he voted for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage throughout the country. Price also voted against hate crimes protections legislation, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
In the 114th Congress, he wasn’t a co-sponsor of comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act and along with every other Republican wasn’t a co-sponsor of the Consumer Non-Discrimination Act, which would specifically bar anti-LGBT discrimination by healthcare providers.
Price generally earned a score of “0” for each term he has been in office on the Human Rights Campaign congressional scorecard. The exceptions were during the 110th and 111th Congress when he earned scores of “10” for voting against a motion to recommit that would have killed hate crimes protection legislation.
In 2013, Price participated in a conference call hosted by Tea Party Unity, as Right Wing Watch reported at the time, and said a caller was “absolutely right” about the potential of negative health and fiscal impact of legislation promoting LGBT rights. The caller was Rabbi Noson Leiter, who attributed the arrival of marriage equality in New York to Hurricane Sandy.
“The consequences of activity that has been seen as outside the norm are real and must be explored completely and in their entirety prior to moving forward with any social legislation that would alter things,” Price said. “I’m always struck by people who wake up one morning and think that they’ve got a grand new way of doing something when as you all know that the tried and true traditions in history that made us great are preserved and have survived because they are effective. I hear you, medical health and costs; you talk about a huge cost-driver to state pensions and other things, many of these areas would significantly alter state balance sheets.”
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said his organization hasn’t had a direct relationship with Price because it focuses on state and local officials, has said he has “taken many positions on LGBT issues that we find troubling.”
Nonetheless, Graham said his organization in the early 2000s during Price’s tenure as a state senator worked with him to secure increases in state funding and support for Georgia’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program. That was a time, Graham said, when the state’s waiting list was one of the largest in the country.
“Over the past eight years, HHS has shown strong leadership in addressing LGBT-related health disparities and implementing the National Strategy to End AIDS,” Graham said. “I hope that as secretary, Congressman Price will show the same leadership and attention to addressing important health issues that he displayed in the Georgia Senate.”