Rep. Tom Price—President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial pick for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services—said “nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from anybody” as part of Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s not our plan for people to lose coverage,” Price told members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Wednesday morning during the early portion of the hearing.
However, Price doesn’t intend to present his replacement plan until after his confirmation. It’s one reason why Democrats had pushed to delay the confirmation hearings in addition to ethical concerns raised in the last two weeks about Price’s possible involvement in insider trading and his healthcare-related stock investments while sponsoring legislation that may have influenced those companies’ shares. Democrats say Republicans are rushing through the confirmation.
The Senate HELP Committee will not vote on Price’s confirmation. That is scheduled to take place by the Senate Finance Committee on Jan. 24.
Investments called into question
The confirmation hearing, which was still ongoing as this story went to publication, became contentious at times, with Democratic senators pushing Price on his knowledge of stock purchases he made prior to introducing legislation that would financially benefit companies in which he owned shares.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., questioned Price’s investment in an Australian biotech company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, while he voted on the 21st Century Cures Act. She also asked Price directly as to whether Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a member of Trump’s transition team, gave him a stock tip about the company.
Price said that he did learn about the company from Collins and researched it before he invested in it. But he claimed it was above board and he had no access to nonpublic information.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he “resented” the attack on Price, which he said was a “hypocritical attack on your good character.”
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., however, said he found it hard to believe that Price, an orthopedic surgeon, didn’t know he held stock in big tobacco companies yet voted against legislative measures aimed to regulate the tobacco industry and reduce the death toll of Americans who are addicted to it.
Price said he had no idea which stocks he held in the 1990s or even now and many were part of mutual funds and pension plans. He told Franken he suspects that Franken’s own pension plan over the years had some history with tobacco companies.
Franken also questioned Price’s purchase of stock in Zimmer Biomet worth up to $15,000 a week prior to introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the medical device company. “You said you didn’t know you had stock,” Franken said, “but once you found out the broker bought it, you kept the stock.”
Concerns over Price's ACA replacement plans
Franken said that Price purchased stock in a private deal that involved a small number of people and found it “absolutely amazing” that Price didn’t know he got a discounted price. “It sounds like a sweetheart deal," Franken said. "Our job in this body and in Congress and government is to avoid an appearance of conflict. And boy you have not done this.”
Franken also said he has concerns about Price’s plans to replace the Affordable Care Act based on Price’s 2015 bill, Empowering Patients First Act of 2015. The plan was more concerned about protecting physicians, Franken said, than it was about protecting the sick and poor. That plan, he said, also gives tax credit to Americans to buy health insurance but was the same whether a person earned $20,000 a year or as much as Bill Gates.
Price said he is committed to making sure Americans have access to the highest quality of care and hopes he can work with Congress to solve the difficult challenges of healthcare if he is confirmed to lead HHS.