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Dr. Sidney Wolfe on HHS Nominee Tom Price’s “Cruel” Plans to Repeal the Affordable Care Act

StoryJanuary 19, 2017
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President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for the Department of Health and Human Services, Georgia Congressmember Tom Price, appeared Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for his confirmation hearing. Price is the chair of the House Budget Committee, a member of the Tea Party Caucus and one of the leading opponents of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He opposes abortion and has voted to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He also supports privatizing Medicare. Congressmember Price’s hearing came only days after CNN reported Price invested thousands of dollars in the medical device maker Zimmer Biomet and then introduced a bill to benefit the company. For more, we speak Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

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AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services, Georgia Congressman Tom Price, appeared Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for his confirmation hearing. Price is the chair of the House Budget Committee, a member of the Tea Party Caucus, one of the leading opponents of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He opposes abortion, has voted to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, also supports privatizing Medicare. This is Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts questioning Price about his proposed cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I want to understand the changes to Medicare and Medicaid that you have already proposed. The budget that you recently authored as chair of the House Budget Committee would have cut spending on Medicare by $449 billion over the next decade. Is that right?

REP. TOM PRICE: I don’t have the numbers right in front of me, but what we’re trying—

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I—I have the numbers.

REP. TOM PRICE: What—well, then I assume you’re correct. What we’re—

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: All right. So you said you’d cut it by four hundred—Medicare, cut Medicare by $449 billion. Your FY17 budget proposal also would have cut Medicaid funding that goes to the state governments by more than $1 trillion. Is that correct?

REP. TOM PRICE: I think, Senator, the metrics that we use for the success of these programs is not necessarily—

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I’m just asking—it’s an easy yes or no.

REP. TOM PRICE: —whether the amount of money into it is what would I be looking—

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Did you propose to cut a trillion dollars from Medicaid?

REP. TOM PRICE: What we believe is appropriate is to—

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Do you want me to read you the number out of this?

REP. TOM PRICE: No, I’m sure you’re correct. What we believe is appropriate is to make certain that the individuals receiving the care are actually receiving care.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I understand why you think you’re right to cut it. I’m just asking the question: Did you propose to cut more than a trillion dollars out of Medicaid over the next 10 years?

REP. TOM PRICE: You have the numbers before you.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: Is that a yes?

REP. TOM PRICE: You have the numbers before you.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I’ll take it as a yes.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Congressman Price’s hearing came only days after CNN reported Price invested thousands of dollars in the medical device maker Zimmer Biomet, then introduced a bill to benefit the company. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Congressman Price violated the STOCK Act, which restricts insider trading by members of Congress. Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota questioned Price about his personal stock investments.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: You purchased this $50,000 to $100,000 worth of stock in a biomedical company called Innate Immuno. We’ve talked about it a little bit. It’s your single largest purchase in the past three years, in a private deal that was not made available to the public. And I find it absolutely amazing that you responded that you did not know that you got a discounted price. That is absolutely amazing, because we discussed this.

REP. TOM PRICE: By definition, I believe that’s the—that’s the nature of a private placement offering. What I said to you and what I’ve said to others is that I paid exactly the same price as everybody else. I disclosed it to members of Congress.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: It was a private offering that only went to about 20 people.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C. That was Senator Franken questioning Congressman Price. We’re joined by Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Your comments on the Price nomination?

DR. SIDNEY WOLFE: Aside from Price’s questionable moral and ethical stand in terms of these yet fully investigated purchases and so forth, as a physician, he is really not compassionate. Yesterday he got into a tug with Senator Sanders about whether he’s compassionate. His voting record is certainly not compassionate. He voted on the wrong side of legislation that would have decreased violence against women. He voted on the wrong side of things that had to do with hate crimes. He voted on the wrong side of parental leave. So he’s not compassionate as a human being.

He may have been a perfectly good physician, but medicine, in his view, and, unfortunately, to many views, is a business now. And what he has done in his legislation that he proposed, as opposed to what he’s saying, “We don’t want to pull the rug out on anyone”—what he’s done is roll the clock back, not just before the Affordable Care Act, but back over 50 years. Fifty years ago, for the first time ever, this country decided that healthcare was a right for two groups of people: the old and the very poor. And we all hoped that shortly after that, something would happen to add more to those two vulnerable groups of people. And the only thing that’s happened in 50 years is President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which added about 20 more million people and put in important provisions, such as not discriminating against people because of pre-existing illness. In an article that just appeared in The New Yorker, surgeon and author Atul Gawande said “life is a preexisting illness waiting to happen.” In other words, it can happen to anyone. A quarter of people under the age of 65 already have pre-existing illnesses. So, to roll back the clock not only on the Affordable Care Act, but to start eroding Medicare and Medicaid, now 51 years old, is cruel, is not passionate and is not consistent with a doctor’s ethical duty to first do no harm.

As secretary of HHS, which we hope the Senate will be wise enough to stop from happening, Congressman Price, Dr. Price, as he’s technically called—I’m sure he was a good doctor when he was a doctor—has the capacity to help implement the legislation that he—that he put forth, the Empowering Patients First Act—it is a cruel hoax to call a law that is going to disempower vulnerable people, such as older people, Medicaid recipients and all of the extra 10, 20 million who got health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. What it does instead is return to the old days, not only with people who benefited from the Affordable Care Act, who will now face exclusion or unaffordable high premiums once the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

So, as a physician, as a person, he isn’t compassionate. He does not adhere to the ethics of the medical profession, which has first do no harm. He is a secretary of HHS who will orchestrate and quarterback harm to the most vulnerable people in this country, and he should be opposed for that reason, in addition to these yet unanswered questions about his treating the healthcare industry, a $3.2 billion industry, the biggest industry in the country, as a business, making money as he can off of it, unanswered questions about whether he used information that he had to make these investments. The whole picture—his voting record, the law that he sponsored, the Empowering Patients First Act, and what he’s doing in terms of the stock market—raise questions about someone even—

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Wolfe—

DR. SIDNEY WOLFE: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but I want to thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us. Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

And that does it for today’s show. A very happy birthday to Edith Penty! And special thanks to Rafa Petry of ThoughtWorks, today his last day.

We will be broadcasting for eight hours tomorrow, from 8:00 Eastern time to 3:00, from the inauguration and on Saturday 10:00 to 3:00 covering the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. Check out democracynow.org.

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