Last month, President-elect Donald Trump named Tom Price, six-term House member and former orthopedic surgeon, his nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary.
Unsurprisingly, Price has a long history of trying to eliminate Obamacare and, as Politico noted in November, his vision of the government’s role in healthcare is “more conservative” than that of his colleagues. Price’s tea party ideology is familiar: a long history of support for reducing funding for entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, as well as a history of supporting anti-choice legislation (he has zero rating from Planned Parenthood). But as a recent op-ed in the New York Times argues, Price is also a very likely ally in the long Republican quest to roll back many of the women’s health care protections included under Obamacare.
In the piece, Allison Hoffman and Jill Horwitz point out that while a full-scale repeal of Obamacare is unlikely, the program’s mandate on birth control is a vulnerable target for Price. Currently, much of women’s preventative services, including contraception coverage, is enforced by an administrative rule drawn from an interpretation of the law. Family planning services, as well as a range of gender-specific health care, is not explicitly mentioned in the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010. Hoffman and Horwitz write:
Responding to evidence that health plans did not sufficiently take into account women’s unique health needs, the law included preventive care for women on this list of required coverage. But instead of listing every covered service in the act itself, the law left that task to regulators in the Department of Health and Human Services. They, in turn, relied on a study based on a review by the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) that recommended several categories of services: well-woman visits, screening for gestational diabetes, counseling for sexually transmitted infections, breast-feeding support, screening and counseling for domestic violence, and — most at risk of repeal now — contraceptive methods and counseling.
This means that Price could waive that rule with a stroke of a pen; he simply needs to issue a counteracting rule. Hoffman and Horwitz make a compelling case that Price is inclined to do just that. As a member of Congress, Price took a dim view of contraception as well as the large percentage of American women who use it:
In Congress, he opposed a law that would protect women in Washington, D.C., from employment discrimination based on their decision to use birth control or have an abortion. He was a co-sponsor of legislation that would have defined life as beginning at conception, inviting arguments that common forms of birth control constitute a murder weapon.
Though Price’s views on women’s health care might be to the right of Paul Ryan and even Donald Trump, as HHS secretary, he’s likely to find wide support for a repeal of the contraception mandate.
Price’s decision could, of course, have far-reaching implications. A recent study showed that since Obamacare’s contraception rule went into effect in 2012, that roughly 55 million women have saved billions of dollars on the contraception costs. Data has also (unsurprisingly) shown that cost and availability of contraception have a direct impact on family planning.