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Single Payer Now (cc/Michael Fleshman)

Tom Price as HHS Secretary: A Disaster for U.S. Health Care

Dr. Carol Paris

The Senate’s vote to confirm Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., as secretary of health and human services, while widely expected, should set off national alarm bells.

Price’s congressional track record, combined with his extensive health-policy paper trail, have shown him to be unabashedly pro-big-business and contemptuous of human needs – particularly when it comes to women’s and poor people’s needs. But the damage he will be able to do as HHS secretary will go far beyond that.

His appointment to the helm of HHS means he is now poised to wreak havoc on our already dysfunctional health care system, jeopardizing the lives of additional millions of Americans who desperately require medical care but can’t afford to get it.

Consider Price’s hostility to traditional Medicare, one of our nation’s most beloved social insurance programs. Together with Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Price has pushed for “premium support,” i.e. vouchers, whereby seniors would exchange their guaranteed health coverage under traditional Medicare (which they’ve paid into throughout their working lives) for a lump sum of money to go out shopping for a health policy on the private insurance market.

Can you imagine the chaos such vouchers would create among millions of seniors and their families? How much more precarious their health care – even their survival – would become?

“Premium support” is an underhanded prescription for the dismantlement – the destruction – of traditional Medicare. It would be the beginning of the end. The implementation of such a scheme would sharply increase out-of-pocket costs of our nation’s seniors and severely disabled, some of the most vulnerable parts of our population, even as it would bolster the profits (and CEO salaries) at the private health insurance, Big Pharma, and financial services industries.

Or take Price’s views on Medicaid. Much like President Trump’s nominee to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seem Verma, has done, Price would embrace the conversion of today’s Medicaid program into federal block grants to the states. These block grants would give state governments wide latitude on how to use the money, opening the door to greater patient cost sharing among the poor (introducing copays, deductibles, or work requirements), even as it would enhance the already egregious profiteering by parasitic private Medicaid managed care companies.

Family planning? Price has displayed unconcealed hostility to women’s reproductive health, and his new position will allow him to literally place the health of millions of women at risk. His extreme views include opposition to abortion under almost all circumstances, a preference for “religious freedom” over access to contraception, and an obsession with eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

According to this week’s Monmouth University poll, Americans' top worry today is with their mounting health care costs, more so than their job security, taxes or other household bills. With Price at the helm of HHS, this worry will mushroom.

I could go on – his unbridled animus toward LGBTQ rights, his fascination with discredited policies such as high-deductible health plans and allowing private insurers to sell policies across state lines, the threat he poses to our safety-net hospitals, etc. – but you get the picture.

Make no mistake: if Price’s policies are carried out, he will make an already bad system much worse. Research shows that repealing the Affordable Care Act, a cause for which Price has been a primary standard-bearer in the House, would likely result in 43,000 excess, preventable deaths.

In short, Price’s confirmation vote on Friday was a body blow to our nation’s health and welfare.

This is precisely the wrong direction we should be taking in health care. Rather than augmenting the power and profits of the medical-industrial complex (which, by the way, Price has a distinct affinity for), and cutting back on our people’s access to health care, we should be expanding high-quality care to one and all.

What we need to do – now more than ever – is to replace our fragmented dysfunctional system of health care with a streamlined, single-payer, Medicare-for-All system. The savings we’d reap from eliminating the wasteful bureaucracy and paperwork generated by our current multi-payer system – savings now estimated to be $500 billion annually – would be sufficient to cover everyone in the United States and to eliminate all copays and deductibles.

There were those in the 2009 health care debate who said, “Support the Affordable Care Act; it’s the only politically feasible plan; we’ll get to Medicare for All later.” But Congress passed the ACA, and six years later we’re still saddled with the most serious structural deficiencies of a private-health-insurance-based system, including 28 million uninsured. The ACA didn’t get us where we need to be.

Today, there are those who would say that all we should ask for is to retain the ACA. I’m sorry. As a physician, 28 million uninsured is unacceptable. Now is the time to go beyond the ACA, and to replace it with H.R. 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act.

Unrealistic, you say? It’s remarkable what millions of people in motion – which is what it will take – can do. What’s truly unrealistic is thinking we can have truly universal care and control costs without a single-payer system.

We can’t afford to delay any longer. Too much is at stake. We have no time to lose.

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