Price, with Kellyanne Conway in tow, visited a Charleston fire department, an addiction hotline, and a treatment center. So far, so normal! But we’re talking about the Trump administration, so of course Price’s visit took a dramatic left turn: He recommended “faith-based programs,” rather than medicine-assisted treatment, for addiction rehabilitation. Hours later, Charleston police arrested a Public News Service reporter for asking Price a question.
Let’s start with the opioid crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has the highest per capita rate of death by drug overdose in the country. They also need medical treatment, and as a physician Price should know this. Emphasis on should. No such luck, according to The Charleston Gazette-Mail:
“If we’re just substituting one opioid for another, we’re not moving the dial much,” he said. “Folks need to be cured so they can be productive members of society and realize their dreams.”
Set aside, for a moment, the fact that opioid addicts have almost certainly already tried prayer. Faith-based programs also lead to First Amendment concerns. Religious organizations can receive public funding for their work as long as they don’t proselytize beneficiaries. But if religious teachings influence a facility’s approach to addiction treatment, it may be impossible for that facility to avoid violating the religious freedom rights of taxpayers, as well as the patients they’re being paid to serve. There’s no evidence that Price has considered these pitfalls.
It’s hard to avoid seeing a similar disregard for the Constitution reflected in the arrest of reporter Dan Heyman. Charleston police claim Heyman “aggressively breached” Secret Service agents; Heyman disputes that charge. The Washington Post reports that Heyman “followed alongside” Price to ask him if domestic violence would be a pre-existing condition under the AHCA:
“This is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do,” Heyman said. “I think it’s a question that deserves to be answered. I think it’s my job to ask questions and I think it’s my job to try to get answers.”
The Post also reports that the ACLU’s West Virginia affiliate called the arrest “a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press.” This is not what West Virginia needed from the man shaping the future of American health care.