The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions wrapped up its hearing on Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education at 8:45 last night, and will be back at 10 this morning to hold another confirmation hearing. Up today: Trump’s pick for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.).
Last night, the committee chairman adjourned the hearing despite the fact that several senators had many more questions for DeVos. The chairman also said he will limit senators’ questions at this morning’s hearing, even though there are growing concerns about Price. According to reports, Price may have committed ethics violations by pushing for legislation that would benefit companies he owned stock in. There’s also his support for controversial policies like turning Medicare into a voucher program and repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Tom Price's views on religious freedom make him the wrong choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services
We’re particularly looking for answers about Price’s record on religious freedom. As enshrined in the Constitution, religious freedom guarantees we are free to believe as we see fit and to practice our faith – but it doesn’t allow us to ignore laws that protect others or to take away their rights even if we’re motivated by religious beliefs. Price, however, has pushed to allow religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate and deny health care. His record not only reflects a basic misunderstanding of religious freedom, but also a flagrant disregard for HHS’s mission to “enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans.”
Price has called the ACA’s contraception coverage rule, which requires health insurance plans (except those provided by houses of worship) to cover FDA-approved methods of contraception with no co-pay, “a trampling of religious freedom” and said it should be reversed. And after the Obama administration let non-profit organizations get out of providing coverage to their employees by simply filling out a form, Price argued that even filling out the form violates the employers’ religious exercise. As we know, the contraception coverage rule was designed to improve access to birth control, which is vital to women’s health and equality. Using religion as a justification to reverse the coverage rule or exempt more employers from its requirement, as Price has supported, would clearly harm women.
His eagerness to sacrifice healthcare for false claims of religious freedom isn’t limited to contraception, however. Price also cosponsored the so-called Health Care Conscience Rights Act. This extreme measure would allow any employer or insurance company to ignore the law and deny health insurance coverage for any health care service they have a religious objection to.
His record on LGBTQ issues is equally bad. Price co-sponsored the deceptively named First Amendment Defense Act. This discriminatory bill would essentially allow individuals, government employees, businesses and taxpayer-funded social service providers to cite religion as an excuse to ignore all laws that recognize and protect same-sex couples.
Price’s view of religious freedom is not only wrong, but it could cause serious harm if he is confirmed as HHS secretary. HHS funds vital social services for some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Based on his record, we fear Price may fight to allow the providers of these services to cite religion as an excuse to refuse to help those who need it most.
That's why we think #PriceIsWrong for the job, and we're fighting back. You can too. Urge your senators to oppose Price's confirmation.