Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, at his confirmation...
Carolyn Kaster

HHS Secretary Price’s stock-trading controversy grows more serious

The fact that Tom Price was even confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services points to a deterioration of political norms.

As regular readers may recall, in late January, there were some striking reports published about the far-right Georgia Republican and his controversial investment record. The Wall Street Journal reported, for example, that Price “traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.” Kaiser Health New added soon after that Price got “a sweetheart deal” on an investment opportunity from a foreign biotech firm. CNN then reported that the congressman bought stock in a medical company, introduced legislation that would benefit that company, and then received a campaign contribution from the company’s PAC.

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We learned soon after that Price allegedly undervalued stocks he owns “in a pharmaceutical company both to the committee and in his financial disclosure forms,” and a separate Wall Street Journal piece added, “Three months after investing in four companies with manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary introduced legislation that would directly benefit those companies.”

USA Today, citing research from government ethics lawyers, noted on Feb. 8 that Price’s investments “warrant probes by both federal securities regulators and the House ethics committee.” Two days later, Senate Republicans, without exception, confirmed Price anyway.

The revelations, however, continue. ProPublica had this report on Friday afternoon:
On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.
Oh my.

At issue in this case was a rule, pushed by the Obama administration, called the Medicare Part B Drug Payment Model. In a nutshell, Obama’s White House believed the health care system created incentives for physicians to prescribe high-priced medicines that don’t necessarily produce better outcomes. The rule was controversial, and Price wasn’t the only member of Congress to balk.

Price, however, appears to have taken steps his former colleagues did not. ProPublica’s research found that on March 17, Price’s broker purchased shares of Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer, and Biogen – six of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies. The same day, Price’s office reached out to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, to argue against the rule that would undermine the profits of the companies he’d just invested in.

Under normal political circumstances, Price would be in enormous trouble right now, to the point of cameras waiting outside his home, asking if he’s worried about being indicted. But with unrelated scandals already surrounding the White House, the HHS Secretary isn’t feeling the heat – yet.

HHS, Scandals and Tom Price

HHS Secretary Price's stock-trading controversy grows more serious