Virginia Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe is considering keeping Dr. Bill Hazel on as secretary of health and human resources. Hazel is the same man who assisted Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in adopting and carrying out the very anti-choice policies that have dramatically reduced women’s access to health care throughout the state. As reported previously in Rewire, Hazel played an inside role in the adoption of a Virginia law that forces women not only to undergo ultrasounds prior to an abortion irrespective of whether they are medically necessary, but also forces them to pay for the procedure.
Why would McAuliffe, who ran on a pledge to support women’s reproductive rights, reappoint an anti-choice physician to such a sensitive post? According to reports, the reason is that Hazel will ostensibly help McAuliffe build political support for Medicaid expansion among reluctant GOP legislators.
An analysis of the public record, however, reveals that Hazel not only isn’t the best pick for a “pro-choice” governor faced with repairing years of damage wrought by the previous administration, but that he has also expressed strong opposition to and derided both the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the expansion of Medicaid.
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Under the ACA, the federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid for the first three years, and 90 percent of the cost thereafter. Nevertheless, Gov. McDonnell refused to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid, despite the fact that by doing so, as many as 430,000 people in the state would gain access to health care. One study suggests that unless it is reconsidered, McDonnell’s decision will cost the state more than $2 billion in federal funding by 2022.
As secretary of Health and Human Resources, Hazel actively opposed Medicaid expansion and publicly belittled the effort. At an AARP event in 2011, he explained his rationale, drawing laughter by likening people without health care to children who want toys:
We don’t necessarily look at it as defeat and state money and people say, well, you know, this is not state money. It’s federal money. But it reminds me when I used to take my daughter to the toy store. She said: Daddy, can I have that? And I said, Sure, Suse, you can have that. She said: Well Daddy, am I buying this with my money or your money? And it makes a difference in terms of the purchasing but the fact is all the money comes from the same place … So we do have a real federal budget issue here and the artificiality of the situation is we’re trying to – well, federal money versus state money and the guy who’s writing our tax checks, it’s all the same to them.
At the same event, he suggested that extending Medicaid to low-income people in need of health care might foster irresponsibility:
We don’t know how do you ensure that Medicaid is something that people benefit from but still want to get out of and want to be responsible for their own purchasing and move up the ladder.
Hazel’s concerns with the health-care law did not extend just to Medicaid expansion. As reported previously by Rewire, Hazel supported Virginia’s rejection of the health-care law in general. Speaking unenthusiastically to the issue of insurance exchanges in 2011, Hazel said, “We all have to face this, and no one wants to.”
Conventional wisdom might suggest that this is just politics and that Hazel will do whatever the McAuliffe administration wants him to do. There are a few problems with that assertion. One is that it suggests there are no other qualified candidates, not to mention qualified pro-choice women candidates, in Virginia willing and able to take over as secretary of Health and Human Resources after an election season in which commercial after commercial claimed that a vote for McAuliffe was a vote for change in the realm of reproductive health policy.
An assumption underlying the “just politics” excuse is that Hazel’s hands were tied under the McDonnell administration. But at this level, no one’s hands are ever tied, and the option to protest dangerous policies based on principle always exists. The Virginia Department of Health is one of 14 agencies operating under the secretary of Health and Human Resources. Dr. Karen Remley, who served under Hazel, resigned as state health commissioner in protest of the politically motivated restrictions on abortion clinics adopted during the McDonnell administration, regulations which even now remain subject to a pending lawsuit. Remley resigned in 2012 after four years of service in both Democratic and Republican administrations. In her resignation letter, she cited the regulations and “an environment in which my ability to fulfill my duties is compromised and in good faith I can no longer serve in my role.”
Hazel represents the insidious face of an apparatchik advancing, supporting, and rubber stamping a war on women that McAuliffe promised to end. Given that voters elected McAuliffe and that women’s rights were a key factor in that election—in an election-day exit poll conducted by CNN, 60 percent of Virginia voters agreed that abortion should be legal—it would seem that, to paraphrase Hazel himself, no one wants to face another four years of that.