This week, President-elect Donald Trump named Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as his nominee for the post of Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). There will no doubt be Trump nominees for whom a confirmation fight will not be worth the battle. This is not one of those instances.
The Price pick was not unexpected — his name was on the administration’s short list from early on — but it nonetheless should be of great concern to all LGBT people as well as healthcare providers of all stripes. For the last 10 years I have worked with colleagues on advisory groups with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and other HHS programs and initiatives, as well with the Pan American Health Organization with the goal of providing culturally competent care for those of all sexual orientations and gender identities. During the Obama administration and under the leadership of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and subsequently Sylvia Burwell, a community of care professionals has collectively made tremendous progress in making good on that same goal.
The federal initiative Healthy People 2020 established specific goals to eliminate disparities for LGBT people and to improve the systems that deliver their care. Both HHS and the Justice Department now collect health and demographic data on sexual orientation and gender identity in 12 different surveys and studies with the goal of improving the lives of LGBT people. And the National Institutes of Health just this year designated LGBT people as a health disparity population that should be studied and cared for.
Throughout his six terms in the House and in the Georgia Legislature before that, Rep. Price has established a track record of supporting policies that threaten to derail these many years of progress for the health of both LGBT people and of all U.S. citizens. He has advocated for the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, replacing it with the Empowering Patients First Act, a proposal that is unevaluated by the Congressional Budget Office or the Joint Committee on Taxation, and that has the potential to leave many of the roughly 21 million insured under Obamacare in the lurch. He has also supported diverting funds from the Medicare and Medicaid programs, depended on by millions, to state grants where patient care and rights would face a decidedly uncertain future.
In the domain of LGBT rights, his reputation is no better. He opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” opposed marriage equality, and supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as “one-man-one-woman.” He also voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would have prohibited job discrimination based on sexual orientation. With that as background, it appears he would not be resistant to the endorsement or funding of conversion therapy, a dangerous and thoroughly discredited practice condemned by every major professional health organization, but that is nonetheless a plank in the Republican Party platform and championed by Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Not surprisingly he has garnered a “0” rating from the Human Rights Campaign Congressional Scorecard.
Of all Trump’s nominations for Cabinet posts and executive positions in his administration, this nomination of Tom Price should be of particular concern. The policies that Rep. Price advocates for contradict known best practices and a wealth of knowledge about good public health policy. His dogma runs contrary to the interests of the health of all people, the LGBT population especially so. And, like many of Trump’s nominees, Rep. Price has no particular qualifications for the job — beyond having once earned a medical degree — and has no experience managing a large government agency.
Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services will face a confirmation hearing in the Senate next year. It is incumbent upon advocates for health care and LGBT rights to challenge Rep. Price’s policy positions and scrutinize his vision for HHS and the health of the American people.
Dr. Stephen Forssell is assistant professor, Professional Psychology Founding Director, LGBT Health Policy & Practice Program and The George Washington University.