News Politics

Does Tom Price Still Belong to Fringe Group Saying Health Care Is Not a Human Right?

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, told Rewire she was unsure if the HHS secretary had paid his membership dues this year.

A fringe medical association that pushes falsehoods about medical science is now promoting the idea that health care is not a human right—and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price may still be a member of the group.

Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), told Rewire last Tuesday that she was unsure if Price had paid his membership dues this year. Orient said she believed the organization had not removed him from its mailing list.

In a June 20 post to AAPS’ website, Dr. Alieta Eck, who served as president of the group in 2012, warned against calling health care a human right in response to the American Medical Association (AMA) considering a resolution to affirm “health care as a human right.” The AMA ultimately voted to refer the resolution for further consideration, stating that “this is an important and complex topic that requires careful thought and conversation.”

In the AAPS post, Eck wrote that the right to access care “is not self-evident” and is instead the responsibility of every person.

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“Medical services may be necessary for those who are ill, but food, clothing, and shelter are necessary for all,” Eck wrote. “If these were declared to be rights, it would mean everyone provide food, clothing, and shelter for every American: socialism in every part of the economy. How much food? How lavish a wardrobe? How big a house? And how much medical service can a citizen demand from others? Constant conflict and eventual shortages and impoverishment are guaranteed.”

AAPS subsequently promoted the post in a press release.

Whether Price aligns with the AAPS view that health care is not a human right takes on new urgency given the vast human cost of congressional GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s signature health-care reform law.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would leave 23 million more people uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Monday afternoon, a CBO cost estimate found that the U.S. Senate’s version of ACA repeal would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026, with 15 million more people lacking coverage starting next year. Price told people “suffering from Obamacare” in Utah on Monday that the Senate plan “gives states the flexibility and resources they need to design a safety-net that meets the health care needs of their low-income, most vulnerable citizens,” even though it would slash Medicaid by $772 billion.

Between 18,100 to 27,700 people could die in 2026 due to lack of coverage if the Senate version is passed, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress.

Rewire reported in December on Price’s AAPS membership, after Orient confirmed he was a part of the group and expressed her excitement that he had been nominated to the top spot at HHS.

AAPS promotes a number of views unsupported by medical science, including a false link between breast cancer and abortion care. The organization’s Journal of the American Physicians published the work of discredited anti-choice advocate Joel Brind—an endocrinologist featured in Rewire’s “False Witnesses” project—making the inaccurate claim.

Price attempted to distance himself from the falsehood during a January confirmation hearing for his role at HHS. “I think the science is relatively clear that that’s not the case,” Price told Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) after being asked if he believes abortion causes breast cancer.

HHS didn’t respond by press time to an inquiry from Rewire about whether Price was still a member of AAPS.

Price remains a member of the AMA, according to a spokesperson. The group opposes current Obamacare repeal efforts, calling the House-passed American Health Care Act “critically flawed” and the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act a violation of medicine’s precept to “first, do no harm.”

The AMA had called on the Senate to “work with physician, patient, hospital and other provider groups to craft bipartisan solutions so all American families can access affordable and meaningful coverage, while preserving the safety net for vulnerable populations.” Instead, a group of 13 Republican men crafted the Better Care Reconciliation Act behind closed doors. Both the House and Senate repeal bills try to end abortion access.

Price continues to pan Obamacare and praise repeal via HHS press releases. He sought to discredit the CBO in the wake of the independent, nonpartisan office’s estimate that 23 million people wouldn’t have health-care coverage under the House’s plan.

Price’s apparent disregard for how many people stand to lose health-care coverage puts him at odds with the World Health Organization’s constitution, which states that “the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.” That “right to health includes access to timely, acceptable, and affordable health care of appropriate quality,” according to a 2015 fact sheet.

Price was more tempered when he was vying to lead HHS. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) used the confirmation process to ask if Price believed every person in the United States has the right to health care, regardless of income.

“Yes, we are a compassionate society,” Price said, later adding that he would work with Congress “to make sure that every single American has the highest quality care and coverage that is possible.” But Price stopped short of advocating universal health care, telling Sanders that “if you want to talk about other countries’ health-care systems, there are consequences to the decisions that they have made, just as there are consequences to the decisions that we have made.”

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