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Tom Price Poised to Protect Doctors’ Interests at HHS, Critics Say

Trump appointee favors less government intervention

In picking Tom Price to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Donald Trump has chosen an orthopedic surgeon who, in his congressional career, has promoted the interests of the medical profession, including its financial interests, according to a report from Kaiser Health News (KHN). In 2015, for example, he sponsored a 2015 bill that would restrict efforts to reduce doctor payments for medical services.

A fierce critic of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Dr. Price has criticized some of the Obama administration’s efforts to cut health costs, citing too much government interference. His PPACA replacement bill would bar states from limiting doctors’ charges for medical services.

Dr. Price has tried to block efforts by Medicare to scale back payments for expensive chemotherapy and to limit large payments for hip and knee replacements. He has also taken the lead in trying to impose federal controls on medical malpractice suits, according to the KHN article.

The American Medical Association, however, says Dr. Price brings a unique perspective to the job of HHS secretary, a role traditionally filled by foundation executives, career politicians, social scientists, lawyers, and public health experts.

“As a lawmaker, Dr. Price has had the valuable ability to see how legislation and regulation would affect patients and their physicians,” Dr. Patrice Harris, chair of the AMA board of trustees, said in a statement to KHN.

In a recent interview with Radio America, Dr. Price said increases in insurance premiums and deductibles show the failures of the PPACA.

“We opposed the plan because it doesn’t work for people; it doesn’t work for patients,” Dr. Price said.

Dr. Price’s alternative includes health care saving accounts to help individuals pay for health insurance, a concept now embraced by the Trump team.

But the bill also includes a call for “lawsuit abuse reforms” that would allow the HHS secretary to give states money to create tribunals to review malpractice claims. The process would make it more difficult for patients to prove medical error, setting the standard at “gross negligence,” according to the KHN report.

Tom Miller, a resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, said Dr. Price’s opposition to cost-cutting proposals arises from a free market philosophy that less government intervention is better.

“Many of those objections are to how the cost cutting is being done—a brute-force, top-down bureaucratic approach,” he said. “His opposition is to government control of more aspects of health care—that’s the driving force. It’s a shared point of view if you’re a Republican conservative doctor.”

Even some critics of Dr. Price’s proposals are hopeful his experience will prompt him to tackle cost-cutting and improve patient-care quality as HHS secretary.

“He has been a loyal Republican and a champion of conservative causes that I don’t support,” said William Sage, a University of Texas at Austin law professor who has studied medical malpractice and health care costs. “Far more important is that as someone with deep inside knowledge of health care, he understands how overpriced health care delivery is and how disorganized and often ineffective it is.”

Source: Kaiser Health News; December 12, 2016.

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