Given the prominence of the fight over the Affordable Care Act, there is no more pivotal figure in Donald Trump’s cabinet than Georgia Congressman Tom Price, the nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary. Trump has already predicated his bizarre vow of “insurance for everybody” on Price’s confirmation, saying he will not release his health care plan until that time. The Republican Congress, with no consensus of their own, awaits Trump’s directive, so any delay in Price’s confirmation puts what has become the top legislative priority in the first hundred days on hold.
With that in mind, maybe the Trump “extreme vetting” team should have figured out at some point that Price had a chronic insider trading problem.
For the second time in a few weeks, news has leaked about Price’s unusually timed purchases of medical-related stocks. CNN yesterday alleged that last spring, Price bought between $1,000 and $15,000 of shares in Zimmer Biomet, a medical-device company. Days later, he introduced legislation to delay a Center on Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation changing reimbursements for knee and hip implant. Knee and hip implants provide the majority of Zimmer Biomet’s revenue, and the regulation will significantly reduce their profits. (Price’s office said the stock was purchased without his knowledge, but only after refusing to answer the same question before CNN published the story.)
Price got a $1,000 PAC donation from Zimmer Biomet after introducing the bill. Prior to the bill, Price got another $1,000 from the company after writing a letter to CMS calling for delays in the regulation. This was a common practice for Price: advocating to federal agencies on behalf of campaign donors.
The Zimmer Biomet numbers are relatively paltry, but they reflect a pattern. The Wall Street Journal reported in December that Price traded $300,000 in medical stocks over the past four years, while pursuing legislation that could impact their bottom line. Some of the laws got through; the recently passed 21st Century Cures Act will accelerate approval of certain drugs, including one for multiple sclerosis manufactured by Innate Immunotherapeutics, which Price holds stock in. As Kaiser Health News reported, Price received between $50,000 and $100,000 of Innate stock last August through a special private placement at just 18 cents per share. The price is up to $1.30, a seven-fold increase.
Price has vowed to divest from 43 medical-related stocks upon becoming HHS Secretary. But his House activity could violate the STOCK Act, which sought to prevent insider trading among members of Congress. Price voted for the STOCK Act, which passed the House 417-2 in February 2012. The law appears to have been written with actions like his in mind, and Senate Democrats have pounced. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants the Office of Congressional Ethics, which Republicans tried to neuter earlier this month before changing plans, to investigate the matter. “This isn’t just a couple of questionable trades, but rather a clear and troubling pattern,” Schumer said in a statement.