Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican and physician picked by President-elect Donald Trump to oversee the health and availability of essential human services to all Americans, belongs to a medical association whose unconventional views are certain to raise questions during his confirmation hearings next year.
Trump nominated Price, re-elected last month to a seventh term, to become secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
An orthopedic surgeon, he is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, whose 5,000 members consider the group a nonpartisan professional organization dedicated to “preserving the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship and the practice of private medicine.”
It has long been at odds with mainstream medical groups, and critics say it promotes scientifically discredited theories, including that abortion causes breast cancer and that vaccines can cause serious disabilities.
It was also one of the groups that sued to force the release the names of those on then-first lady Hillary Clinton’s health care task force in the 1990s. In 2003, the group filed an amicus brief for the public release of photos taken of former Clinton administration deputy counsel Vincent Foster following his 1993 suicide.
It posted an article before President Barack Obama’s election in 2008 questioning whether the Democratic presidential candidate was practicing a “covert form of hypnosis” to court voters. It said the posting was not an official position but was designed to “stimulate an interesting discussion.”
The association also strongly opposed the Obama administration’s effort to overhaul health care during the debates over the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010.
Neither Price nor the Trump campaign returned a request for comment.
Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the association, said Price was good choice to lead the Health and Human Services Department because “he been a practicing physician so he knows what the impact of rules and regulations are coming down from Washington and what they mean to a doctor trying to do his job.”
Asked whether her group holds positions that are out of the medical mainstream, she said, “It depends on what the mainstream is.”
Orient said “mainstream” physicians “are very progressive. They were in favor of Obamacare. Certainly they don’t represent the majority of physicians. . . . I suspect more doctors are philosophically on our side, but there’s no way to tell that because a lot are very timid about speaking out because their practices depend on people who may hold different views.”
Orient also said that because her group’s medical publication, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, carried an article on a particular topic did not mean the organization embraced everything in it.
“We believe in open scientific inquiry,” she said. “The articles published in our journal are not the official position of AAPS.”
Dr. Manan Trivedi, president of the National Physicians Alliance, a health research and advocacy group that takes no funding from pharmaceutical companies or medical device manufacturers, said he found it “very alarming” that the potential next federal health secretary was involved with the physicians and surgeons group.
“They have been associated with a lot of the anti-vaccine movement,” he said. “They also have been involved with the out-there theory that President Obama hypnotized folks. Look, there seems to be a culture of not recognizing evidence-based medicine that is a real concern for us.”
Abortion rights groups seized on the connection between Price and the association as they mobilized supporters with a Twitter hashtag, #priceiswrong.
The medical group was founded in 1943 by members of the American Medical Association who opposed the “socialization of medicine in America.” Its members mostly opposed Medicare, a federal medical assistance program for the elderly, and the group runs seminars for doctors who want to “opt out” of the program.
It also opposes Medicaid, a federal-state medical program for the poor. In its “Principles of Medical Ethics,” the association refers to the 1965 law that created the two assistance programs, saying “the effect of the law is evil and participation in carrying out its provisions is, in our opinion, immoral.”
The association’s attitude toward the government is similar to its approach to the insurance industry, which it blames for rising health care costs. Many of its members, though how many is unclear, don’t participate in third party coverage, requiring cash as payment for their services. They say it lowers costs.
Dr. Wayne Iverson, a San Diego-area internist who is a former board member of the association, said he did not agree with, nor did he place much stock in, some of the more fringe positions linked to the group. He suggested many were old and not reflective of current thinking.
He also cautioned against associating them with Price, whom he has met several times and described as “reliable.”
“I got the impression that Dr. Price is smart enough, astute enough, to know which things are practical, which things are wholesome for the country,” he said. “There very well may be policy statements made by AAPS in the past which he as does not agree with. Any of the stuff that would be considered extreme with AAPS, it’s highly unlikely he would adopt any of those things.”