The overnight confirmation of Tom Price to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could jumpstart the fledgling effort by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to reshape the nation’s health-care landscape, limiting access to contraceptives and abortion care.
Republicans in the U.S. Senate pushed the party-line 52-47 vote shortly before 2 a.m. after Democrats held the floor for the third time this week in opposition to President Trump’s cabinet nominees-turned-members Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) did not vote because her husband was scheduled to have heart surgery on Friday.
The lead-up to the final vote on Price wasn’t the first time Democrats protested Trump’s pick for the department. Senate Finance Committee Democrats last week boycotted an initial vote to advance Price’s nomination to the floor following “truly alarming news” that contrary to his committee testimony, Price had received a privileged offer to buy medical stock at a reduced price. Democrats had demanded, but never received, a congressional ethics investigation into Price when the allegations surfaced in January.
Democrats used up all of their allotted floor time to object to the longtime GOP congressman from Georgia moving over to head HHS. Price believes “there’s not one” woman who can’t afford birth control and belongs to a fringe anti-choice medical association that promotes the false link between abortion and breast cancer, among advancing other medically and scientifically unsupported positions on vaccinations and HIV.
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Price may be eyeing the birth control benefit, a signature benefit of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requiring employer-sponsored health insurance plans to cover contraceptives and contraceptive counseling as preventive care with no cost to the consumer. He wouldn’t commit to ensuring coverage of all 18 Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods during his contentious initial confirmation hearing.
To ax the birth control benefit, all Price would have to do is issue an HHS directive declassifying contraceptives as preventive care.
Price opposes abortion rights as much as the contraceptives that reduce abortion rates. In his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, he co-sponsored the 2007 Right to Life Act, an extreme “personhood” bill that sought to grant fetuses and zygotes full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution. He co-sponsored the 2015 Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically and scientifically unsupported claim that a fetus can feel pain at that point in a pregnancy.
Even if Price fails to wield the power of the executive branch against affordable contraceptives, his former colleagues intend to do so via the legislative branch. Rewire was first to report that congressional Republicans won’t replace the ACA’s birth control benefit if they succeed in unraveling President Obama’s health-care reform law.
Price is on board with the GOP’s one-two punch to repeal the ACA and defund Planned Parenthood, an effort he will oversee in his new role.
The new HHS secretary disregarded the impact of cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood, testifying during his second confirmation hearing that he didn’t believe the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s finding that almost 400,000 people could lose access to care. He repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood during his tenure in Congress.
Price’s confirmation offers a life-jacket to the so-called fast-track ACA repeal process treading water in Congress.
As recently as last week, the New York Times reported about the GOP’s increasing “struggles and false starts” on the path to their “once seemingly unstoppable” goal. Trump told Fox News in a pre-Super Bowl interview that the repeal-and-replace measures he once promised to deliver “essentially simultaneously” on Capitol Hill would happen, at best, “by the end of the year, at least the rudiments, but we should have something within the year and the following year.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan praised Price for offering Republicans a “big step forward” and a “committed ally” in their work to repeal the ACA.
Ryan—a proponent of false claims that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer money for abortion care and false statistics that there are 20 community health centers for every Planned Parenthood affiliate—has called Price the “absolute perfect choice” for the job.