The new Secretary of Health and Human Services is a member of a fringe medical organization. Here's what that means. - 2016-11-30
I'm always hesitant to write about matters that are more political than scientific or medical, although sometimes the sorts of topics that I blog about inevitably require it (e.g., the 21st Century Cures Act, an act that buys into the myth that to bring "cures" to patients faster we have to neuter the FDA and a retooled version of which is still being considered). This is one of those times. Yesterday, I woke up to the news that President-Elect Donald Trump had chosen Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as his new Secretary of Health and Human Services. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), of course, figures fairly prominently in a some regular topics discussed on this blog because major federal agencies that I write about are within the DHHS, including the CDC (vaccine issues, Zika virus, etc.), the FDA (drug approval and drug safety), and, of course, the National Institutes of Health (billions of dollars worth of medical research). So the HHS Secretary matters, at least for purposes of discussing science-based medicine. Then there's also the issue of Donald Trump's long history of rabid antivaccine views, coupled with the other issue of his having met secretly with Andrew Wakefield in August in Florida and, after the election, antivaccine activists seeking to influence him based on that meeting. Heck, as I've noted before, Vice President Mike Pence apparently doesn't believe that smoking causes cancer and premature death. So I was looking for a signal in whomever Trump picked regarding whether he would actually do anything about vaccine policy potentially harmful to public health.
So why did Tom Price catch my attention more than other Trump cabinet picks? Yes, he detests Obamacare and is likely to be fully enthusiastic about gutting it, but pretty much anyone Trump picked would have been expected to hold that view. It's pretty much par for the course for the Republican Party these days. I would have been more surprised if Trump had picked someone who was was relatively neutral on the Affordable Care Act. No, what caught my eye was that I learned that Tom Price is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), and that told me a lot about him, none of it good. For instance, in 2015 Charles Pierce referred to Price as "one of Georgia's wingnut sawbones" (Price is an orthopedic surgeon), and noted an article by Stephanie Mencimer, The Tea Party's Favorite Doctors, which included this description of the AAPS:
Yet despite the lab coats and the official-sounding name, the docs of the AAPS are hardly part of mainstream medical society. Think Glenn Beck with an MD. The group (which did not return calls for comment for this story) has been around since 1943. Some of its former leaders were John Birchers, and its political philosophy comes straight out of Ayn Rand. Its general counsel is Andrew Schlafly, son of the legendary conservative activist Phyllis. The AAPS statement of principles declares that it is "evil" and "immoral" for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and its journal is a repository for quackery. Its website features claims that tobacco taxes harm public health and electronic medical records are a form of "data control" like that employed by the East German secret police. An article on the AAPS website speculated that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to "neurolinguistic programming"—that is, according to the writer, young people, educated people, and possibly Jews.