HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

A Faustian Bargain Comes Home to Roost – Already!

Posted on | August 28, 2017 | 2 Comments

Valerie Huber

Mike Magee

“The Department of Health and Human Services is shaping up to be a huge headache for the radical Left”, crowed the Family Research Council in a June 12, 2017 release. Commenting specifically on the appointment of controversial nominee  Valerie Huber, formerly head of the National Abstinence Education Association, as chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS, it stated, “While conservatives cheered the move, the Left fired off a series of angry press releases, accusing Huber of being everything from anti-woman to anti-science. It’s almost comical…. The Left is so confused about basic biology that it doesn’t even know which bathroom to use!”  “Congratulations, Secretary Tom Price, on another stellar pick!” Their words, not mine.

The appointment continued a Price/Trump trend begun in April, 2017, with the appointment of Charmaine Yoest, former president of Americans United for Life, as the Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs in HHS. She had worked earnestly to restrict access to abortion state by state, and along the way labeled transgender people “crazy”.

All of this is reminiscent of 2002. At the time, the new President Bush was knee deep in a tortured position on Stem Cell Research and the Pro-Choice/Pro-Life battle was in full swing. Candidates for service at HHS at that time had to make it through a phalanx of conservative evangelical organizations with names like Traditional Values Coalition, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, National Right To Life, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and of course Pat Robertson himself at the Christian Coalition.

The most controversial appointment surprisingly was Surgeon General. While the clearing venues varied, the temperature was consistent – somewhere between cold and frozen solid. In short, the very mention of the position of “Surgeon General” was a giant turn-off. The messages were clear and consistent. Number 1: We hate Koop because we supported him and he betrayed us. (C. Everett Koop MD, by then a decade out of service, had unleashed God-less AIDS education, advocacy and condoms on school children in their view.) Number 2: We’re never going to put ourselves in that position again.

If the message was clear, so were their preferences. Number 1: That the position of Surgeon General should be abolished or at least remain unfilled. Number 2: If it has to be filled, it must be filled by someone who would do absolutely nothing. Ceremonial only.

At the time, President Bush relied on a highly centralized White House personnel program to ensure the integrity of appointees to HHS. At the helm was one Ed Moy, Special Assistant to the President for Personnel. Ed was the only son of Chinese immigrants who settled in Wisconsin and established a successful Chinese-American restaurant there. He worked at the restaurant as a kid and attributed his strong focus on conservative economics to that experience. After dropping out of Pre-Med at the University of Wisconsin, he chose to double major in Economics and Political Science. At the same time, he met his future wife, Karen Johnson, a devout student interested in campus ministry.

Moy’s first job was as a salesman for managed care health policies at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Wisconsin. During his ten year tenure there, he managed to become an ordained Christian minister and applied his skills to the benefit of students and faculty at his former alma mater. After working on Papa Bush’s campaign in 1988, he did a stint as the head of Managed Care for Health and Human Services in Washington. He returned to government service some years later when the second Bush gained the Presidency. His role this time, however, was as Special Assistant to the President for Personnel, a critical appointment to the self-proclaimed “born-again” George Bush who had anchored his campaign and owed his victory in part to the fierce loyalty of his supporters and to a pious pledge to support a new era of “compassionate conservatism”.

Control over personnel and messaging was designed to assure the right pedigree, values, and above all loyalty to George Bush. Under these conditions, evangelicals like Moy could be counted on to perform with “religous zeal” in assuring policy purity within the department.

When the AMA and AAMC offered a full-throated endorsement to Tom Price as Secretary of HHS, in return for a pledge of support of their parochial interests, they knew well this trade off. Some AMA Federation members like The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) hedged their bets. Here’s part of an  ACOG’s letter to Price soon after his appointment: “Planned Parenthood clinics provide critical preventative healthcare services to women and men. Abortion is healthcare. ACOG remains committed to protecting each of these critical aspects of women’s health.” But those remarks were paired with these, “Your consistent efforts to find common ground and work together on shared goals are laudable, and your commitment to accomplishments, rather than talking points, is unfortunately all too rare in Washington. We hope that you will use your new role as an opportunity to expand on these collaborative practices.”

One need not be a genius to have predicted that in the age of Trump, this Faustian bargain would come home to roost in short order – yes, that Faust,  “the magician and alchemist in German legend who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power and knowledge.” So no surprise when the Trump administration this week abruptly announced the elimination of the final two years of funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, a previously successful comprehensive federal effort that provides $89 million a year to 81 organizations. No matter that birth rates in teens, including minorities, are down significantly.

Bill Albert, spokesman at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in Washington, D.C. sees the hands of Valerie Huber pulling the strings. “Maybe they don’t like the content of the program. They care more about telling kids to say ‘no’ rather than supporting programs that help teenagers.” Well known to Tom Price’s sponsors – in her position, Ms. Huber will directly impact the output of 12 public health offices including HIV/AIDS, Women’s Health, and Adolescent Health.

 An early 16th century Faust play, often portrayed through puppetry, suggests a moment of truth:

“He laid the Holy Scriptures behind the door and under the bench, refused to be called doctor of Theology, but preferred to be styled doctor of Medicine.”

Comments

2 Responses to “A Faustian Bargain Comes Home to Roost – Already!”

  1. Denise Link
    August 29th, 2017 @ 10:22 am

    The checks and balances system among the legislative, judicial and executive branches, that was carefully crafted by the founders of the our country, no longer exists in Washington. There is only one agenda, there is only one solution. Progressives, and conservatives that disagree with what is going on, must register in a manner that will allow them to vote in primaries and general elections, and VOTE in all elections to establish and maintain balance and sanity.

  2. Mike Magee
    August 29th, 2017 @ 8:34 pm

    Denise- You’re so right! It’s all about checks and balances, and the willingness to stand up for your values.Best, Mike

Leave a Reply





Show Buttons
Hide Buttons