On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination of U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, to serve as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Tom Price, health nominee, belongs to group that calls Medicare ‘evil’

U.S. Rep. Tom Price, nominated as President Donald Trump’s health secretary, belongs to a doctors’ group that considers Medicare “evil” and physicians who accept it “immoral.”

That is one of many controversial positions taken by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. The 3,000-member group represents a tiny fraction of American doctors but possesses an outsize voice even in a profession known for political conservatism.

The association has promoted an array of discredited theories: childhood vaccines cause autism, illegal immigrants spread disease and abortion causes breast cancer, among others.

It also has defended members accused of misconduct, questioning regulators’ authority to impose disciplinary action.

Price’s membership raises questions about his commitment to preserving Medicare, the primary health insurance for elderly Americans for the past five decades. It also suggests he may be open to fringe elements of the medical profession that defy scientific consensus on public health and policy issues. As secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Price would oversee both Medicare and Medicaid, the health program for poor Americans. He also would supervise federal agencies that conduct scientific research, such as the Georgia-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Price, a Republican from Roswell, is granting no interviews during his confirmation process, a spokeswoman said Monday. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination Tuesday.

Democratic senators have challenged Price’s investments in health care companies, but he has denied receiving preferential treatment. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Price received an offer to buy shares in a biomedical firm at a discount – contradicting his statements to the Finance Committee.

Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond to the Journal’s report. But it defended Price against Democrats’ accusations that he intends to phase out Medicare, beginning as early as this year.

In Congress, Price advocated raising the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67 and favored a voucher system that would allow recipients to control how they spend their benefits.

Price gave only vague answers to questions about Medicare during a confirmation hearing last week.

“Our goal,” he said, “is to make certain that seniors have access to the highest quality health care possible at an affordable price.”

Price did not discuss the positions of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. The group’s executive director, Dr. Jane Orient, confirmed Price’s membership during an interview Monday.

Price has been a featured speaker at association events, and he received a “medical freedom” award during its 2009 annual meeting.

But Orient said the group sometimes disagrees with Price on Medicare and other issues. The association has tried to discuss differences with Price, Orient said, but “he has not been very responsive.”

The association formed in 1943, dedicated to fighting what it calls socialized medicine. It added opposition to Medicare to its ethics policy in 1965, the year the program launched. Other organizations, such as the American Medical Association, also opposed Medicare at first but moderated their views over the decades.

Orient said the association considers Medicare “a program based on deception,” and one that lacks funding to sustain itself.

“So it’s immoral,” she said.

Still, the group does not require members to reject Medicare payments.

“They are stuck in it,” Orient said. “They think all their patients will abandon them if they don’t have this influx of government money.”

The association has occasionally veered outside health policy advocacy. It once asked the U.S. Supreme Court to release autopsy photos of Vince Foster, the White House aide who committed suicide during Bill Clinton’s administration. The group said it needed the photos to determine whether Foster had been murdered, as various conspiracy theorists have posited.

Orient said the association is “very much in favor” of Trump’s proposals to eliminate many federal regulations. It also favors Republican efforts to do away with President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.

An association member recently wrote an opinion piece defending Trump and denying suggestions that the health care act may stand.

“Americans are learning that the media is not a free press but rather the propaganda claw of statist predators lurking at the far left end of the swamp,” wrote Dr. Kristin Held, a Texas ophthalmologist. “They are attempting to create a false narrative that Trump will renege on his campaign promises to undermine his trustworthiness and integrity from day one.”

While the association favors repealing Obamacare, it doesn’t necessarily want to replace it.

“Our replacement,” Orient said, “is freedom.”

A fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Tom Price took place at the American Medical Association's annual meeting in Chicago last June. (Alan Judd/ajudd@ajc.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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