Georgia State Rep. Betty Price, the wife of recently-resigned Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, has followed in her husband’s footsteps (jet stream?) by demonstrating ideas about health care that are callous and discriminatory.
In 2013, Georgia ranked second in the U.S. for rate of new HIV diagnoses. The South is in the middle of an HIV crisis, accounting for 44 percent of all HIV diagnoses despite making up only 37% of the U.S. population, according to a 2016 CDC report. The crisis, according to that report, has been spurred in part by socioeconomic conditions that the Trump administration and the Republican party—and Tom Price’s extremist-stacked HHS, in particular—have threatened to exacerbate:
Income inequality,poverty, and poorer health outcomes have long been more widespread in southern states, compared to the rest of the nation. These factors are not unique to HIV—people in the region have long suffered poorer health outcomes overall. These include disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes,cancer, and infant mortality, as well as higher overall mortality rates—for all causes than in other regions. Many people in greatest need are not benefiting from access to health care services, and southern states generally continue to have the highest numbers of people without health insurance. The four states with the highest proportions of people without health insurance are in the South: Texas (18.8%), Oklahoma(18.1%), Georgia (17.5%), and Florida (17.2%).
In March, Rep. Price, an anesthesiologist, pushed a bill through the state House that, if it had passed, would have extended state needle exchange programs in response to an increase in HIV cases—a medically-backed position that her husband has opposed. But in a Georgia House of Representative study committee meeting, Price, whose remarks were first reported by Project Q Atlanta, made a number of disturbing comments (a video of the hearing can be seen here). From STAT News:
“I don’t want to say the quarantine word — but I guess I just said it,” Price said to Dr. Pascale Wortley, director of the Georgia Department of Public Health’s HIV epidemiology section. “But is there an ability, since I guess public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxis and treatment of this condition, so we have a public interest in curtailing the spread. … Are there any methods we could do legally to curtail the spread?”
At the hearing, Price also noted that people “died more readily” in the past, which was apparently... convenient?
“It seems to me it’s almost frightening the number of people who are living that are potentially carriers, well not carriers, with the potential to spread, whereas in the past they died more readily and at that point they are not posing a risk,” she said. “So we’ve got a huge population posing a risk if they are not in treatment.”
K. First of all, just to state the incredibly obvious: it is not medically sound to quarantine people with HIV/AIDS, because the disease is not spread through casual contact. There is a long history of discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, largely fueled by homophobia and racism, and there have been several controversial attempts to open up the possibility of various forms of quarantines—in Kansas in 2013, in California in 1986. The threat of quarantine, advocates say, would prevent people from disclosing their status, or even getting tested.
In an interview with STAT News, executive director of Georgia Equality called Price’s comments “incredibly disturbing,” and evidence of “the amount of work that still needs to happen to educate elected officials on the reality of the lives of people living with HIV.”