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AMA Members: “Tom Price’s Positions Inconsistent with Our Policies”

December 5, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Nearly 500 delegates and members of the American Medical Association (AMA) have written an open letter to the association’s Board of Trustees expressing concern and disappointment that the AMA has supported President-elect Donald Trump’s selection as Tom Price, M.D., for Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary.

Following Trump’s announcement last week, Patrice A. Harris, M.D., chair, AMA Board of Trustees, released a statement that said, “[Price’s] service as a physician, state legislator and member of the U.S. Congress provides a depth of experience to lead HHS. Dr. Price has been a leader in the development of health policies to advance patient choice and market-based solutions as well as reduce excessive regulatory burdens that diminish time devoted to patient care and increase costs. We urge the Senate to promptly consider and confirm Dr. Price for this important role.”

Price, (R-GA), 62, is a retired orthopedic surgeon and has been a leading GOP voice against Obamacare, which the President-elect has promised to “repeal and replace.” But the letter from the various AMA members and delegates stated that AMA does not share this view. “We hope it is clear from your statement that while the AMA has long agreed that certain provisions within the ACA require either modification or repeal, we are proud that our AMA supported the ACA, based on its expressed policy that ‘comprehensive health system reform, which achieves access to quality healthcare for all Americans while improving the physician practice environment, is of the highest priority for our AMA.’ (H-165.847). We are confident the AMA will stand behind your assurance that we will not support any health reform that would result in people losing coverage,” the letter to Harris and the Board of Trustees read.

The letter noted that Dr. Price has been a longstanding member of the AMA House of Delegates and a “friend and colleague to many in our organization.” But the members stated that they believe that a “formal endorsement of his appointment and urging Congress to confirm his nomination—as opposed to a statement of congratulations and continued commitment to work together—is divisive to our organization because many of Dr. Price's positions are inconsistent with longstanding AMA policies.”

The letter expressed thanks that Harris did pen a piece on Dec. 1 that clarified the organization’s original statement of support by saying, “Our support for Dr. Price to lead HHS should not be taken as an endorsement of every policy position he has advocated.”

Further, the letter mentioned that Price's budget has proposed that Medicaid be transitioned from an entitlement or defined benefit program into a block grant program with markedly reduced funding, potentially leaving millions of children without care. But, AMA policy states that the association is an “advocate for federal and state funding for Medicaid and SCHIP so that funding is sufficient to support enrollment of and provision of necessary services to all eligible children, adolescents, and young adults” (D-290.985).

What’s more, the letter noted that Price supports defunding Planned Parenthood and opposes health plans covering contraception. “Our AMA has policy in favor of adequate funding of family planning clinics (H-75.992) and has additional policies, too numerous to list here, supporting access to contraception, including Medicaid coverage of contraception. While we believe that the AMA has been prudent in its carefully crafted balanced policy on abortion—embraced by the vast majority of our members—and appropriate in its strong support of contraception—unqualified support of the nomination of Dr. Price leads many members and the public to believe we endorse his positions.”

And regarding same-sex marriage and supporting the LGBTQ community, the letter referenced that Price opposes the former and also does not support protecting members of the LGBTQ community from job discrimination.

The letter concluded, “We ask that our AMA release an additional statement as soon as possible clarifying AMA policy positions which include support for relevant portions of the ACA, meaningful healthcare access for every American, the right to reproductive healthcare access for all women, and the right to non-discrimination for members of the LGBTQ community, and that we will continue to support these policies in our AMA’s work with Secretary-nominee Price. Such a statement offers a more nuanced position of sincere congratulations and the desire to work side-by-side on health system reform, yet clarifies important policy differences and the need to find common ground.”

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