By Janine Petito, Andrew Hyatt, and Michael Zingman
Common Dreams, December 1, 2016
Early Tuesday morning, President-elect Donald Trump announced his selection of Representative Tom Price (R-Ga.) for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), to succeed Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Almost immediately, the American Medical Association (AMA) and Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) expressed strong support for this nomination.
As students and future health care professionals, we are deeply troubled by the AMA and AAMC endorsements of Rep. Price. The policies he has endorsed not only stand in stark contrast to our ideals, but also threaten the wellbeing of our patients. We question why these organizations—established to protect the interests of all physicians, students, patients, and communities—would ignore the priorities of those they represent. As HHS secretary, Dr. Price will endanger medical institutions and policies, as well as jeopardize our medical education and the very practice of evidence-based medicine.
Though Price, an orthopedic surgeon, claims to prioritize patient, family, and physician needs, his track record suggests decidedly otherwise. In 2015, as leader of the House Budget Committee, he proposed repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its entirety, privatizing Medicare, making enormous cuts to federal Medicaid funding, and abolishing the mandate that states use Medicaid dollars for patient care. These proposals would guarantee an immediate loss of health insurance for 22 million Americans; increase health care costs for the aged and disabled; and reverse recently-gained protections for vulnerable members of our society, abolishing protections of women’s health, addiction, LGBTQ+, and other necessary medical services.
Despite evidence of the substantial harm his policies would inflict upon patients, Rep. Price continues to advocate for them in his fiscal plan for 2017, promising to destroy the systems already in place to protect the neediest among us and placing the health of millions of Americans at risk.
The AMA’s support of Price lies in direct conflict with the organization’s purported values and its mission “to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.” If the AMA is truly committed to promoting the science of medicine, it must recognize that this country cannot afford to place power in the hands of a man who opposes promising scientific breakthroughs like embryonic stem cell research. Similarly, it must ensure that the nation’s HHS secretary values the truth. On the contrary, Rep. Price has demonstrated a severe lack of respect for facts, exemplified by his false claims that women have always been able to afford birth control, and that “not one” has benefitted from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.
If the AMA is truly concerned about the betterment of public health, it is frankly irresponsible to endorse a nominee who wants to decimate Medicaid—which serves more than 70 million Americans who cannot otherwise afford care—and privatize Medicare, creating narrow networks for enrollees, making seniors increasingly responsible for their health expenses, and decreasing access to needed care.
We find the AMA’s paradoxical endorsement objectionable, but unsurprising. This would not be the first time the organization has acted in the interest of profits over patients; it supported the ACA only begrudgingly, and has historically blocked every effort for universal health care reform, despite evidence of the innumerable benefits that a Medicare-for-All system would afford patients and providers alike. While the AMA has failed to represent the priorities and values of its member physicians for decades, the situation at hand poses too great a danger to our nation’s health for the medical community to remain silent.
The AAMC’s endorsement of Price is equally, if not more disturbing, given its role in molding future physicians and its mission to “serve and lead the academic medicine community to improve the health of all.” In its endorsement, the AAMC claims that Price “has long been a proponent of academic medicine.” This blatantly ignores the fact that the financial solvency of most academic medical centers depends directly on Medicare and Medicaid payments, given that individuals covered by these programs comprise a large percentage of those receiving care at these institutions. Without these programs, academic medicine as we know it would cease to exist.
If the AAMC truly wishes to “improve the health of all,” it cannot reasonably justify endorsing the nomination of a man who would strip 22 million people of health insurance, who has vocally opposed expanding health benefits for children, who believes our government has no responsibility to provide coverage to transgender individuals, and who ignores substantial evidence that access to preventative screenings, contraception, and abortion services have overwhelmingly positive impacts on women’s health.
As medical students and physicians, we condemn the AMA and AAMC endorsements of Price for HHS secretary, and are disheartened by professional organizations like the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and others choosing to follow suit. Price’s stances are incompatible with the values of the medical profession and with the stated missions of the above organizations. Their support reveals a warped set of priorities, with the short-term professional and financial interests of hospitals and physicians superseding the health and wellbeing of patients. We staunchly reject these endorsements and urge their immediate withdrawal.
In endorsing Price’s nomination and contravening their founding principles, the AMA and AAMC have failed to represent us, the future health care providers of this country. As members and supporters of Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP), we will combat every attempt to deny Americans the health care they deserve, and will fight to create a single-payer health care system that covers every person living in this country without discrimination. If the AMA and AAMC truly believe in their own missions, we urge them to join us in this fight.
Please consider adding your name to our statement to show your support in our condemnation of the AMA, AAMC, and others who endorse the nomination of Rep. Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Janine Petito is a fourth-year medical student at Boston University School of Medicine, who plans to complete residency in internal medicine and pursue a career in adult primary care. She is co-chair of the Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) Political Advocacy Team and a Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) student board member.
Andrew Hyatt is a third-year medical student at Boston University School of Medicine, an active member of Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP), and co-chair of the SNaHP Political Advocacy Team.
Michael Zingman is a first-year student at Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons and active member of Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP).