Few things are more maddening than someone who will look you in the eye, smile and tell you an outrageous lie. It’s not just the lying; it’s the fundamental disrespect it shows for the intelligence of others.
Take the performance by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on a CNN town hall Wednesday night. The first question from the audience came from a man named Brian Kline, who last year was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer, was able to get treatment through Medicaid and is now cancer-free:
“Medicaid expansion saved my life, and saved me from medical bankruptcy,” Kline told Price. “I earn $11.60 an hour at my retail job, so obviously I can’t afford to pay for my cancer care out of my pocket… . My question to you, Secretary Price, is pretty straightforward: Why do you want to take away my Medicaid expansion?”
“The fact of the matter is that we don’t,” Price responded, which is itself a lie. “We don’t want to take care away from anybody. What we want to make certain, though, is that every single American has access to the kind of coverage and care that they want for themselves.”
(Of course, somebody making $23,200 a year, as Kline does, has no chance whatsoever of getting “the kind of coverage and care that they want” without financial assistance. But continue, Secretary Price.)
“If you look at the Medicaid program right now, we have one-third of the physicians in this country, Brian, who are not seeing Medicaid patients. So if we want to be honest with ourselves as a society, it’s important that we step back and ask ourselves, why is that? Why are those doctors not seeing Medicaid patients? Let me just suggest that it’s because the Medicaid program itself has real problems.”
Many Americans watching that exchange might believe that Price is genuinely perplexed that more than 30 percent of physicians refuse to see Medicaid patients. They might also believe that Price honestly wants to correct those problems.
Neither is remotely, remotely true.
We already know the primary reason that so many doctors either refuse to see Medicaid patients or limit the number they treat: Medicaid pays them so little. It is a particular problem here in Georgia, where Price practiced as a doctor for 20 years, because Georgia has some of the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates in the country.
According to a factsheet published last year by the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “On average, the Georgia Medicaid program currently pays only about 65 percent of what Medicare pays for the same service and only about 50 percent of what regular commercial insurance pays.”
So it ain’t brain surgery, or even orthopedics. If you were a doctor with a busy practice, forced to decide which new patient to accept, would you choose the Medicaid patient or the patient with private insurance that will pay you twice as much?
In his response to Kline, Price also strongly implied that the “Medicaid reform” plan that he’s touting would somehow address the problem of physicians who refuse to take Medicaid; that too is flat out wrong. The GOP bill would slash federal funding for state Medicaid programs by $880 billion over the next decade, giving states little choice but to push patients such as Kline off the program and to also further restrict Medicaid reimbursement rates.
In other words, the secretary is not a man operating in good faith; he is a huckster, and a poor one at that.