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Statement: NASW opposes confirmation of Rep. Tom Price to be Secretary of Health and Human Services

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) opposes the Senate confirmation of Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to become Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over concerns he will erode health care protections for millions of Americans and support efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

HHS is one of the most important federal agencies that oversees social safety net programs, including child welfare, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food and drug safety. The agency affects the health and well-being of millions of Americans.  That is why it is important to examine the qualifications, ideology and record of the HHS secretary.

Price, who is an orthopedic surgeon, has an abysmal record when it comes to ensuring all Americans have access to quality health care. NASW believes he is not qualified to become the next leader of HHS.

NASW also supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has provided health care coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans, and wants Congress to work on legislation to strengthen and improve ACA.

Price has been a vocal critic of health care reform and has been one of the most outspoken advocates in the U.S. House of Representatives for repealing ACA.  A demonstration of Price’s antipathy toward health care coverage for all citizens is his proposal to replace a ban on insurers who deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions with a provision requiring continuous coverage for the previous 18 months.

This proposal would open a loophole that ignores people who lose existing coverage when they are unemployed. It also creates a loophole for those who are forced to change insurance coverage due to rapidly escalating premium costs or being dropped by their insurer.

Price has an established Congressional voting record of supporting policies that would severely damage health care protections and progress that has been made in improving the health of Americans. In his push to dismantle ACA, Price proposes replacing it with the Empowering Patients First Act—a plan that could leave 21 million Americans currently insured under ACA without coverage.

Price was an architect of the Republican budget that would end the Medicare guarantee to senior citizens and transform it into a voucher program.  He is also a leading advocate for overhauling and privatizing Medicare and has said Medicare privatization is his top priority.

NASW has opposed efforts to privatize Medicare in the past, and will oppose any future efforts to privatize Medicare or turn it into a voucher program. Our nation should be looking for pragmatic ideas that protect and strengthen Medicare instead of phasing out the program.

The confirmation of Price would put the nation on a direct path to end Medicare as we know it, raising health care costs and more importantly breaking a fundamental promise to provide health care coverage to Americans who are older.

Price fully supports block granting Medicaid programs. This would divert federal funds that millions of low-income single adults depend upon into more uncertain state grants. Converting Medicaid into block grants would also give some states an excuse to sharply cut spending on care for people who are indigent or drastically reduce patient services.

Beyond Price’s positions on the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare, here are other reasons NASW opposes his confirmation:

  • Price would likely pursue policies that ultimately erode our nation’s health and security – eliminating health coverage, reducing access, shifting more costs to working people and their families, and leaving the most sick and vulnerable Americans at the mercy of the health care industry. Health care social workers each day see first-hand the health and social impacts of health care policy and are often the frontline defense for patients and their families as they struggle with the social impact of poor health care.  Instead of rolling back the protections we currently have the United States should strengthen, improve, and expand public systems (ACA, Medicaid, and Medicare) to cover all Americans.
  • In the domain of LGBTQ rights Price opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”; opposed marriage equality; supported a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as “one-man-one-woman”; and voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would have prohibited job discrimination based on sexual orientation. With his lack of support and sensitivity to LGBTQ rights, Price could endorse funding of conversion therapy, a dangerous and thoroughly discredited practice condemned by NASW and every other major professional mental health organization.
  • NASW is concerned that Price has no qualifications to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Beyond having earned a medical degree and running an orthopedic surgery practice, he has no experience managing a large and complex government agency.
  • Price has made statements supporting “personal responsibility” that clearly imply that if a person cannot afford payments necessary to obtain medical insurance—or pay for deductibles and copayments—cost of indicated medical care would not be addressed or resolved through government action or programs.
  • In looking at his voting record, NASW is taken aback by votes that include:

– Opposition to allowing Medicare to negotiate bulk discount prices on inflated prescription drug costs;

– Opposition to giving mental health services full equity with physical health;

– Opposition to expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program;

– Denial of non-emergency treatment for those who lack funds to meet Medicare co-payments;

– Voting against expanding research on embryonic stem cell research; and

– Repeated votes to restrict reproductive rights for women.

It is our opinion that the incoming HHS Secretary should focus on immediate concerns of strengthening our child welfare system, improving public health, addressing the gaps in mental health and substance use disorder research and programs, and making our food and drugs safe for consumption.

With the many medical, behavioral health, public health and social services challenges confronting the United States, the nation needs an HHS secretary to help guide us toward sustainable resolution of these challenges. For example, instead of making the repeal of ACA an immediate priority, Price should focus on reversing the disturbing trend that life expectancy in the United States has declined for the first time in 23 years.

It appears that Price’s ideology holds a position that views health care as a commodity. The implication is that quality health care is accessible to only those who can afford it. This position is contrary to that held by most physicians. Most of the public and even the publicly stated positions of President-elect Donald Trump.

NASW finds this nomination to be troubling. It is important to mention that the Senate is under no obligation to confirm a nominee whose policy views are so outside the mainstream and opposed by a clear majority of Americans, including the President-elect who campaigned on a pledge to not cut Medicare or Social Security.

Social workers represent a significant part of America’s health and human services workforce. We do not take that fact lightly.  One of the profession’s basic and fundamental values – from its inception – is to advocate for the well-being of the of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

Therefore, we insist that HHS be led by someone who is fully committed to re-affirm the department’s mission of protecting health and providing essential human services to Americans.

The National Association of Social Worker is part of coalitions that are working to stop Price’s confirmation. We are also urging our members and the larger social work community to contact their senators to oppose the confirmation. For more information contact NASW Social Justice and Human Rights Manager Mel Wilson at mwilson.nasw@socialworkers.org.

 

15 comments

  1. Shouldn’t NASW spend more time researching evidence-based practice that will promote Social Work in the health care setting rather than obsessing on reasons to oppose very Cabinet member nominated by President-Elect Trump?

    Feel free to ask me about the Republican alternative to the ACA, including interstate commerce, tort reform and a more open market for insurance companies to create policies that consumers will purchase to meet their individual health needs?

    • Thank you Beth!! I completely agree. The hysteria and catastrophizing going on may warrant some CBT intervention. It looks like NASW has fallen prey to hyperbolic rhetoric. I would prefer they focus on the incredible shrinking social work departments in hospitals across the country; voice their outrage for the erosion of the professional identify of clinical social workers within health care; and understand that the NASW leadership does not necessarily represent the membership in their political views.
      Thank you for speaking out Beth!

      • I whole heartedly agree re social workers (LSW and LISW) in hospital systems just disappearing off the floors on hospital systems. It used to be that hospital systems had a bona fide SOCIAL WORK DEPARTMENT. Now, the social workers no longer have a department of their own. Rather, the cards have been shuffled and the existing social workers work under the department of CASE MANAGEMENT, 99.9% of the time headed up by nurses. Our voice as a profession is eroding in hospital systems….one by one…..what is next?

    • Please tell me how turning medicaid into a block grants program will support the many people who have disabilities and rely on medicaid/ waiver programs to ensure that their needs are met.

    • Thank you for speaking out. I agree NASW is letting fear generate polarizing political preaching.

  2. I do not appreciate NASW belittling of his qualifications. Obtaining a medical degree and running a successful orthopedic practice are no small feats. It is okay to disagree with his perspective, but to trying to make it seem like he has no relevant experience is a low blow. Take the high road.

  3. God help us all. If there are so many in this country without insurance under an employer….then, it becomes catastrophic to begin to consider the option of purchasing an individual insurance policy…if you don’t qualify for Obama Care nor Medicaid guidelines. Yikes….the ONLY industrialized country that doesn’t have in place universal health coverage for ALL citizens…yes, indeed…the USA.

  4. NASW has every right to express their political views as it pertains to social workers’ lives and the lives of the millions of indigent and vulnerable citizens to whom social workers provide services. Anyone who has billed an insurance company for a service provided to a client, knows that health insurance companies will do anything to avoid paying, they have many types of stalling strategies…..and many times just do not pay. Interstate commerce (selling insurance policies across state lines) will only worsen the plight of social workers as insurance companies will not be regulated on the state level, where practitioners at least currently (in some states) have a way to mitigate insurance company abuses. Social workers who work with clients in direct practice know, however imperfect the ACA is, it has had a tremendous positive effect in people’s lives. Improving the ACA is the right direction to go, not ripping the ACA – with its protections – away from people. This will only, create uncertainty without replacing it with any other positive alternative. Suffice it to say, protecting doctors via tort reform is hardly a positive alternative.

  5. Actually, Tom Price has been the Representative in Congress from the district where I live in Georgia for a long time, though I have never voted for him. Many, many of his positions and votes in Congress have been directly in opposition to the values and code of ethics of social workers, for as long as I have lived in his district, and I have repeatedly called and sent letters when I disagreed with his positions. It has been his specific agenda for a LONG TIME, in fact since he went into government and left his actual practice of medicine a long time ago, to dismantle our system of benefits for the vulnerable, including Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. As a medical doctor who went into politics, it has always seemed he was more concerned about doctors getting the maximum financial payments and not concerned that lower income and more vulnerable people get access to medical care. Most of my clients here in his area of Georgia fall in that category. Therefore, the minute I saw that President elect Donald Trump selected Rep Price to be the next Health and Social Services secretary, I knew that we, and especially some of our clients would be in for big trouble. Personally, as a 60 year old LCSW, my anger and also fear of losing access to Medicare and Social Security, something I have relied on as part of my retirement planning since my earnings are not great and thus savings are not sufficient, and my current job does not even have a 401K, to support myself in my not too distant retirement. I have paid into Medicare and Social Security for 44 years, with every paycheck. He wants to put any alternatives in the hands of private profit making companies. He is an Ayn Rand enthusiast, but even she spent the last years of her life depending on her Medicare and Social Security. My profound disagreement with his appointment and his ideas are thus both personal and professional, and most of all with concerns for the grave impacts on those most vulnerable or most in need among our clients, but of all in our country will be impacted by programs of his designs. As a social worker profoundly committed to our NASW code of ethics, I watch and listen in horror at many of the actual policies (or lack thereof in the case of repealing with no replacement even developed of the ACA) and positions discussed by the incoming president and his nominees. It’s time to go back to our activist roots, as social workers. As a start, I am going to march in Atlanta’s March for Social Justice, in solidarity with the larger march in Washington DC on Janurary 21! I hope many of you fellow NASW members will join in any of the marches across the country on that day!

  6. Again the NASW has chosen to stand in opposition of an appointment based on opinion and belief of what might occur. Many social workers value his experience and feel that having a physician with his experience serving in this position could prove an asset to the health care system. I liked my doctor and I liked my plan. I lost them both. The ACA has been a disaster since insertion. We now know what’s in it so let’s get behind repeal and replace.

  7. I’m in FAVOR of NASW speaking against Tom Price. It IS our professional duty to uphold the NASW Code of Ethics- which is against discrimination of others. Price’s clear bias against certain groups causes many of us great concern. I think NASW has an obligation to inform membership of Price’s track record.

  8. No matter what your political views, I have one question: What happened to the average middle-income American? I am a MSW, LCSW with 27 years of post MSW experience. I have worked in multiple facets of the Social Work profession. I have learned a great deal and I have cared a great deal! However, my partner couldn’t afford to go to college! My partner worked very hard to get to a state job with great benefits but not great pay! I still owe thousands of dollars on my college and graduate school loans! With our two kids, a mortgage and everyday living expenses, how am I (we) ever going to pay back my student loans? The work that Social Workers do is incredibly important, incredibly stressful, incredibly challenging and incredibly under-paid!!! When is someone going to STAND-UP for US and give US a break?

  9. Progressive colleagues:

    For those of you who have stated political conservatives do not belong in the profession, please petition NASW to declare that membership is not open to us. That would also need to be included in the Schools of Social Work criteria for admission to BSW, MSW and doctoral programs. Then, NASW will also need to revise the Code of Ethics to remove the 6.0 section statements that prohibit against discrimination based upon political beliefs. Finally, NASW would then be able to petition state licensing boards from granting social work licenses to those who may be Republican, Libertarian, or other conservative in party affiliation.

    If you really want to be inclusive, then please allow for continued open discussions via this blog and quit trying to shame those of us who view opportunities for improvement in a different way.

  10. I am glad that the legislative committee within NASW is taking this strong stance against a nominee who has taken stances against improving American’s access to health care.

  11. All Americans, as well as anyone else in this country, have access to healthcare. What not all of them have, is third-party payer coverage to pay for healthcare. Many of the high costs of healthcare stem from the entire third party payer claims process, as well as government-required oversight of healthcare. The ACA offered millions of taxpayer dollars (out of your and my pockets) for “Accountable Care Organizations”. These ACOs were meant to design seamless healthcare delivery systems for patients. None of them has succeeded to date.

    Worse, NASW and the Social Work profession had a wonderful opportunity to LEAD innovations to create a seamless system for healthcare delivery, from prevention to healing and end of life. SOCIAL WORK FAILED TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE!!

    As a taxpayer, health care consumer and health care professional, I endorse Dr. Price’s expertise to lead HHS toward a more efficient, effective care delivery system that changes HOW we deliver care, not just pay for it.

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