Questions Await Health Secretary Pick 01/18 06:17
With coverage for millions of people at stake, Rep. Tom Price is facing
pointed questions about President-elect Donald Trump's health policies -- and
his own investments in health care companies -- from senators considering his
selection as health secretary.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- With coverage for millions of people at stake, Rep. Tom
Price is facing pointed questions about President-elect Donald Trump's health
policies --- and his own investments in health care companies --- from senators
considering his selection as health secretary.
While Price, an orthopedic surgeon-turned-lawmaker, is largely a known
quantity on Capitol Hill, Trump's bottom line on health care remains a mystery
for Democrats and Republicans alike. Trump campaigned on repealing "Obamacare,"
but at times he's sounded more like a liberal, for example, with recent
comments about providing insurance for everyone and taking on the drug
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee scheduled a
hearing on Price's nomination for Wednesday.
Price, 62, represents Atlanta's northern suburbs and chairs the House Budget
Committee. A budget hawk and a social conservative, he drafted his own plan to
replace President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law. It would have saved
taxpayers money but covered fewer people, according to an outside analysis.
Democrats intend to question Price about the impact of Trump's plans to
repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, now providing coverage for about 20
"Tom Price is one of the most extreme and partisan Washington insiders,"
said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the
committee. "We have to consider what he would do to impact people in every
corner of this country."
Democrats will also zero in on Price's investments, which have prompted
questions about potential conflicts of interest and calls for a Securities and
Exchange Commission investigation of possible insider trading. Senior
Democratic senators want to pause the nomination until an investigation can be
completed, a request Republicans are unlikely to grant.
Last week, Price signed a government ethics agreement pledging to sell his
stocks, but that didn't stop the questions. The latest controversy involves
Price's purchase last year of stock in Zimmer Biomet, a major medical device
manufacturer. The acquisition came around the same time that Price introduced
legislation to suspend Medicare rules seen as problematic for such companies.
"This isn't a witch hunt. These are serious and disquieting allegations,"
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Tuesday.
Trump transition team spokesman Phillip Blando said the Zimmer Biomet
purchase was directed by Price's stockbroker as part of ongoing management of
the congressman's investments. The spokesman also said Price had no advance
knowledge and had not directed the broker to consider the company. Government
records show that Price was notified about the purchase more than a week after
he offered the legislation. His spokesman said Price had been working on the
bill for months.
Republican senators are closing ranks behind Price on the ethics questions,
but they want him to provide a better sense of Trump's ultimate objectives on
health care. Over the weekend, the president-elect told The Washington Post
that he is close to having a plan that will provide insurance for everybody and
lower some costs. That surprised many on Capitol Hill, where Republicans are
still looking for a path.
Republican economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin called Price "patient" and
"thoughtful" --- "not a fiery orator."
The Department of Health and Human Services, which Price would lead, has a
$1 trillion budget and about 80,000 employees. It runs major health insurance
programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and HealthCare.gov. Price would also be
ultimately responsible for the Food and Drug Administration, the National
Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Generally, Republicans want to overhaul the health care system to shift a
greater financial responsibility and risk to individuals. They argue that would
help create a genuine market for medical care, leading consumers to demand
lower prices for services.
Republicans would also loosen many Obama-era regulations on insurers, such
as limits on how much older customers can be charged, and requirements that
certain benefits be covered. They would cap the tax-free status of
employer-provided health insurance. And Price favors limitations on jury awards
in malpractice cases.
Emergency room doctor Leon Haley, dean of the University of Florida College
of Medicine-Jacksonville, has known Price for nearly 20 years, since they both
practiced at Grady Memorial Hospital, a major safety-net institution in the
Although Price's financial disclosure forms show him to be a millionaire,
Haley says he believes that Price is aware of the needs of low-income patients.
"I don't believe he would make any intentional decisions that will harm
patients," said Haley.
That said, repealing "Obamacare" carries risks. "What happens after the
original plan goes away?" asked Haley. "If they want to choose something
different, that is completely within the purview of the new administration. But
until we have a defined plan, if you start removing things without adequate
supports, that's a concern."
HELP is one of two Senate committees that will hold hearings on Price. The
Finance Committee, which actually votes on reporting the nomination to the
Senate floor, will conduct a hearing next week.