When Gov. Rick Perry goes under the knife on Friday morning to repair his right clavicle, he'll be in the hands of the president of the Texas Medical Association — a prominent Austin surgeon who has been a critic of some of the causes the governor has championed.
Dr. Bruce Malone's personal opinions on the state’s new abortion sonogram law and massive reductions to state family planning funding run counter to the governor's. He told The Texas Tribune last month that slashing family planning dollars and eliminating the Medicaid Women's Health Program to force Planned Parenthood out of Texas would be "a very stupid political thing," adding that there is not "another safety net for these women for medical care."
Planned Parenthood's network of providers in Texas even invoked Malone's name in a press release on Thursday, following the state's decision to ban their organization from the Women's Health Program.
Perry's office said any disagreement on those issues plays absolutely no role in the governor's surgery, which is the result of a 2009 bicycle injury that did not heal properly. Malone, an orthopedic surgeon who has headed the TMA since May, will perform the 90-minute outpatient procedure.
During a phone interview with the Tribune, Malone clarified — but did not back down from — his criticism over Texas' threats to refuse federal women's health funding if the state can't exclude Planned Parenthood clinics. Perry has repeatedly laid the blame for the likely demise of the Women's Health Program at the Obama administration's feet.
“I didn’t say it was a political decision. I think I used the word 'stupid,'” Malone said. “We don’t have a policy at the Texas Medical Association on the ethics of abortion. What I’m worried about is the well woman exams, the pap smears, all the services that poor women need. I think we need to worry more about the health of the women who don’t have the resources to get the care anywhere else.”
Malone has also voiced concerns about other issues, including the state’s pending lawsuit against the federal government over the individual insurance mandate in President Obama’s health care bill. Perry believes the mandate is a major infringement on individual liberty.
“Without [an individual] mandate, without something that makes people buy policies in groups, the commercial market is in jeopardy. You can’t run the commercial market if people can call [to buy health insurance] when they get sick," Malone said in a January interview with the Tribune. "The state of Texas, the TMA, does not endorse the mandate. But you’ve got to have some way to guarantee the population will have an insurance market."
On the eve of Perry's surgery, Malone was adamant about not mixing up his roles as advocate and doctor. He would not discuss details about Perry’s procedure, saying the governor’s press release was accurate, and adding that, by virtue of it being an outpatient procedure, it won’t be “too complex.” According to a statement from the governor’s office, the operation "will require one incision, roughly three inches in length, and the placement of a contoured plate."
“My job is to be the physician. I respect his privacy. The only reason I’m talking to you is because they sent out a press release,” Malone said. “These patients — whether they be the governor or anyone else — they’re good people and I am their doctor. I try not to mix the two.”
Pressed on whether the two might talk politics, Malone responded, “I try to not do that. If they ask me a question, I’ll answer. But otherwise, I’m just their doctor.”