By Chris Johnson, Washington Blade
The U.S. Senate approved late Thursday another Trump Cabinet pick with an anti-LGBT history with the narrow confirmation of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as secretary of Health and Human Services.
The 52 Senate Republicans were united in voting “yes” and all 47 members of the Democratic caucus present, including lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), voted against him. (Sen. Claire McCaskill was absent from the vote because her husband was having heart surgery.)
A chief critic of Obamacare during his six terms in Congress, Price as a physician was the face of the House Republican effort to undo the health care law. His confirmation is seen as the first step in fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which currently provides health insurance for more than 20 million people.
Advocacy groups concerned with LGBT health have raised the alarm about repealing the Obama-era law. The Affordable Care Act contains a provision barring discrimination on the basis of sex, which the Obama administration interpreted to bar discrimination in health care on the basis of sex stereotyping and transgender status. The law also expanded Medicaid, which is the primary source of care for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, condemned the Price confirmation as a danger not only to transgender health, but the American public as a whole.
“By confirming Rep. Price today, the Senate voted to put health care for millions of Americans at risk,” Keisling said. “Despite today’s vote, people all over the nation, including transgender Americans and their families, do not want and cannot afford to have their health care taken away from them.”
Citing a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey in which 23 percent of respondents said they had not sought health care in the past year because they were afraid of being mistreated due to their gender identity, Keisling said trans people “already have a difficult time accessing health care, and given his history, Rep. Price will likely increase that hardship.”
In terms of LGBT issues, Price has an abysmal record. In 2006, he voted for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage throughout the country. Price also voted against hate crimes protections legislation, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
In 2013, Price participated in a conference call hosted by Tea Party Unity, as Right Wing Watch reported at the time, and said a caller was “absolutely right” about the potential of negative health and fiscal impact of legislation promoting LGBT rights. The caller was Rabbi Noson Leiter, who attributed Hurricane Sandy to the arrival of marriage equality in New York.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Price has shown an “alarming disregard for LGBTQ people” and LGBT health issues, saying his confirmation is consistent with anti-LGBT threats from the Trump administration.
“The fact of the matter is that too many LGBTQ people are still denied care, denied visitation rights, and are treated unfairly by their providers,” Griffin said. “The Trump administration has floated executive order language that would allow the government to bankroll discrimination in all of those areas — and Tom Price’s alarming record shows that he’s the perfect rubber stamp for the president’s shameful proposals.”
Griffin’s statement refers to a draft executive order circulating among federal advocacy groups that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump has no plans to sign the executive order – at least for the time being — and media outlets reported Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner convinced the president not to sign it and keep former President Obama’s order in place against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.
As time has proceeded in the Republican Congress without approval of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have increasingly shifted to the phrase “repair” when discussing efforts to change Obamacare as opposed to Trump’s campaign promise of “repeal and replace.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) denied during an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that change in wording was significant and insisted Republican plans remain the same.
“I don’t know what happened, but maybe somewhere in the press this kind of got crosswise,” Ryan said. “If you’re going to repair the American health care system, and fix its problems, you have to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better. Patient-centered health care. And that is how you repair this health care system.”