Tom Price draws ire for travel on private jets; HHS' Charmaine Yoest explains he has a 'demanding schedule'

Tom Price - opioid briefing
House Democrats have called on the OIG to investigate Tom Price's use of private jets.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is under fire for taking private jets to engagements, in stark contrast to his predecessors, who would typically fly commercial. 

UPDATE: OIG investigating Tom Price's use of private jets for travel

Price took chartered jets on five different flights last week, costing tens of thousands of dollars more than flying on commercial airplanes, according to an investigation from Politico. The trips included a flight to Maine for a Q&A panel and a visit to community health centers located in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. The flights in total cost as much as $60,000. 

The reveal comes as Price looks to curb agency expenses. He has vowed to reorganize the wide-ranging federal department to make it more effective and efficient. 

RELATED: Secretary Tom Price asks staff to 'reimagine' HHS; two new Trump appointees continue contrarian trend

HHS' assistant secretary for public affairs, Charmaine Yoest, said in a statement emailed to FierceHealthcare that the private flights helped Price meet the demands of his busy job. 

“With an incredibly demanding schedule full of 13-plus-hour days, every effort is being made to maximize Secretary Price’s ability to travel outside of Washington to meet with the American people and carry out HHS' missions,” she said. 

Yoest said that there are times when commercial travel is not feasible, though the travel department looks at every possible method of transportation.

RELATED: Fired U.S. attorney reportedly was investigating Tom Price but HHS sec said he is unaware of probe 

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has called on the HHS Office of Inspector General to investigate Price's travel. Pallone and four other ranking Democrats submitted a letter (PDF) to the OIG on Wednesday. 

"American taxpayers deserve assurances that their tax dollars are not wasted by the government's highest officials, and we are committed to holding Secretary Price to his stated pledges to reduce waste throughout the department," the letter reads.