Trump Appoints Tom Price, Opponent Of Pot And Obamacare, As Health And Human Services Secretary

By Kelly Burch 12/02/16

Experts are concerned that Price's stance on the ACA and marijuana policy reform will hinder the progress that has been made. 

Trump Appoints Tom Price As Health And Human Services Secretary: How Will The Addiction And Recovery Community Be Affected?
Tom Price Photo via YouTube

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Georgia representative and orthopedic surgeon Tom Price as his Secretary of Health and Human Services, an appointment that concerns many in the addiction and recovery community because of Price’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act and marijuana reform.

Rep. Price (R-Ga.) has advocated for repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with his legislation, the Empowering Patients First Act. According to The Fiscal Times, the Act includes provisions to repeal Medicaid expansion in 31 states and the District of Columbia for healthy single people; and insurers would no longer be required to cover addiction treatment, birth control, maternity care and other healthcare costs that are essential to many. The Empowering Patients First Act removes subsidies for insurance, but provides tax credits ranging from $1,200 a year for people ages 18 to 35 or $3,000 a year for people over 51. 

Price’s appointment could also affect the country’s approach to marijuana, since the representative has been completely opposed to marijuana decriminalization or legalization. As a member of the House of Representatives, he has voted against measures that would prevent the federal government from intervening in individual states' medical or recreational marijuana laws. 

“We are having a throwback to some of the discredited drug war rhetoric and policies of the late '80s and '90s,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Washington Post.

“Price has a long voting record of opposing the [modest] marijuana policy reforms that have come to a vote in the House of Representatives,” said John Hudak of the Brookings Institution, also to the Post. “Price is a physician and the medical community broadly has been conservative about the use of medical marijuana and nearly universally opposes it for recreational use.”

The Department of Health and Human Services could potentially hinder the progress of medical or legalized marijuana by filing lawsuits against doctors who prescribe it, since the FDA has not labeled marijuana as medicine, said Hudak. It could also control Medicare and Medicaid payments to those doctors. 

“If Price seeks to test the waters in this policy space, it could have a freezing effect on doctors' willingness to recommend marijuana,” said Hudak.

Given the role that the Department of Health plays in educating the country about drugs, marijuana opponents hope that Price’s strong stance will lead to more education on the dangers of marijuana, while opponents of the War on Drugs worry that the failed approach might again take hold. 

“An anti-marijuana battle for hearts and minds could once again be part of the official position of the U.S. government,” Hudak said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.