House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., joined at left by Vice-Chairman Todd Rokita, R-Ind., presides over a markup session as the panel presses ahead with a 10-year balanced budget plan that cuts federal health care programs and agency budgets even though tea party conservatives are rebelling in a setback for Speaker Paul Ryan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2016.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The curious company Trump's HHS Secretary keeps

— Updated
There's some disagreement among medical associations surrounding Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. The American Medical Association, to the consternation of many of its members, is backing the right-wing congressman, while the National Physicians Alliance is not.

But it's an entirely different medical organization that's generating headlines this week, and for good reason. New York magazine noted today:

[T]he bright-red warning flags go beyond Price's policy stances. The congressman also belongs to a truly radical medical organization known as the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. And when you look into the specifics of what that group espouses it's hard not to shudder a little bit extra hard.

Science Blogs managing editor David Gorski, himself a surgeon, summed up what he knows about the AAPS in a helpful blog post. The short version is that the organization stands at direct odds, in myriad ways, with some of very foundational beliefs of evidence-based modern public-health research. As Gorski explains, the organization takes what is basically an Ayn Rand-ian view of the medical world in which doctors are brilliant superheroes constantly undermined by government meddling in the forms of demands for evidence and accountability and things like that.

A Mother Jones piece from a few years ago added, "[D]espite 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 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons last came up a few years ago when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has all kinds of weird scientific beliefs, noted his affiliation with the group. It wasn't encouraging: the organization has expressed "doubts about the connection between HIV and AIDS and suggested that President Barack Obama may have been elected because he was able to hypnotize voters." The AAPS has also peddled discredited claims about vaccines and autism.

The New York article added, "[T]he AAPS isn't the sort of group you join if you have any faith in government or belief that it can meaningfully help people; rather, it's the sort of organization you join if you want to drag the world back to a time when individual patients were on their own, batted to and fro by indifferent markets, with effectively no recourse to fight against quackery, fraud, and other forms of medical malfeasance."

Under more sensible political conditions, membership in this organization would make it difficult for a politician to become the nation's HHS Secretary, but in 2016, Republicans probably won't care.

In fairness, it's not at all clear whether or not Price actually believes all of the wild-eyed nonsense peddled by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, and it's certainly possible he rejects some of the group's more extreme nuttiness.

But it should make for some interesting Q&A during his confirmation hearing, shouldn't it? "Congressman, if you don't agree with the group's radical ideas, why are you a member? And if you do agree with its bizarre beliefs, why should you help shape federal health care policy?"