Letter to the Editor: Tom Price unfit to serve as Secretary of Health

On Jan. 18, Tom Price, nominated for Secretary of Health and Human Services, attended his courtesy hearing before the U.S. Senate. Price stands poised to undo much of Louisiana’s progress in improving the health of its citizens. As future physicians, we oppose Price’s nomination and stand with fellow medical students across the country in expressing our concern.

Price’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” is well-documented, and his proposed alternative legislation removes many of the protections on which American patients rely for access to quality, affordable healthcare. He has proposed weakening preexisting condition protections, terminating the federal health insurance exchange program, eliminating the individual and employer mandates and dismantling federal funding for expanded Medicaid states.

Price’s appointment stands in diametric opposition to Louisiana’s efforts to improve health and reduce costs. The state’s expansion of Medicaid this past summer moved forward at a brisk clip, enrolling 2,500 residents a day. Our expanded Medicaid program now exceeds 351,000 new members. These new members are also included in the more than 20 million fewer uninsured Americans following the implementation of the ACA. Nationally, the number of families struggling to pay medical bills has fallen by 22 percent since the establishment of the health insurance exchanges, according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics. 

While the ACA is not without problems, an estimated 75 percent of Americans do not support a full repeal of the ACA, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. There is also significant bipartisan support for several ACA provisions, including no copayments for many preventive services, increased Medicare payroll tax for upper-income earners, tax credits for low- and moderate-income families to pay their insurance premiums, Medicaid expansion, and preventing preexisting condition exclusions—all of which Price opposes. 

We are also alarmed by Price’s proposal to privatize Medicare, a decision which would dilute coverage for some of our most vulnerable patient populations, namely the elderly and disabled. Under the proposed voucher system, nearly 57 million Americans would be left without stable access to health care and would be forced to navigate the private insurance market, which consistently struggles to contain costs as efficiently as Medicare.

Price’s opposition to contraceptives as a mandatory benefit is concerning. A third of women struggled with the cost of prescription contraceptives before its coverage in 2010. Under Price, we worry women will be unable to adequately access recommended preventive services, including comprehensive reproductive health care. Additionally, Price’s hateful record on LGBTQ+ issues is extremely worrisome, particularly given the unique health challenges faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community, including increased risk for mental health issues, substance abuse, physical and sexual violence and HIV. We hope HHS continues to prioritize the unique issues facing the LGBTQ+ population. 

As future physicians, we recognize that placing our patients first will, at times, conflict with profit motives. We did not begin the arduous trek to obtain medical degrees to profit off the illnesses and injuries of our patients. When we graduate and begin to practice, we need a health care system that allows us to improve lives without worrying about who can pay and who can’t. Price’s vision for health care in America is not consistent with what we need as physicians or what we all need as Louisianans.

Christine Petrin, MPH is a first-year medical student at Tulane University School of Medicine. This article was written with assistance from other TUSOM students Keanan McGonigle, Krishna Pandya, Paige Bradley, Shana Zucker and Kaitlyn Arbour.

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