(Bloomberg) – Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, will appear for the first time before U.S. senators Wednesday amid growing ethics concerns and uncertainty among Republicans about how they will repeal and replace Obamacare.
In the hearing on his nomination, Price will likely face questions about his stock trades in health companies while handling health-related legislation; plans to repeal Obamacare; and Trump’s recent comments about requiring pharmaceutical companies to bid for government business. Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, has opposed allowing Medicare, the U.S. health program for the elderly, to negotiate drug prices directly with manufacturers.
Price will be a key player in the GOP’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the outgoing president’s signature law known as Obamacare. Trump said last week he wants to propose a plan to end and replace Obamacare as soon as Price is confirmed, although he gave no details about what the replacement would look like.
“We all want a health care system that’s affordable, that’s accessible to all, of the highest quality, with the greatest number of choices, driven by world-leading innovations, and responsive to the needs of the individual patient,” Price said in prepared remarks released by Trump’s transition team.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee before which Price testifies Wednesday doesn’t vote on his nomination. The Senate Finance Committee, which will vote on whether to send the nomination to the full Senate for a vote, will hold a hearing on Price Jan. 24.
Medicaid block grants
Price, in the prepared remarks, didn’t go into details of his plans for an Obamacare replacement. Trump told Ainsley Earhardt of Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends program that he’ll cover individuals who can afford it with private insurance. He said he aims to make Medicaid, the joint state-federal plan that covers the poor, a block-grant program.
“Nobody is going to be dying on the streets with a President Trump,” the president-elect said, according to a transcript provided by Fox.
Price will tell senators he got into politics after noticing the health-care system was no longer making patients the top priority.
“There were more individuals within our office who were dealing with paperwork, insurance filings, and government regulations than there were individuals actually seeing and treating patients,” he said in the prepared remarks.
As chairman of the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee since 2015, Price has been a leader in efforts to upend Obamacare. In May that year, he introduced a replacement proposal that focuses on tax credits, expanding health savings accounts and revising laws governing medical malpractice, although it hasn’t been embraced by Republican leaders.
The transition team also called Price “a champion of pro-life issues.” He is an abortion opponent and has voted for efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
Senate Democrats have called for a delay of his confirmation hearings and a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of his trades in health-care stocks while he was a congressman handling legislation that could have affected the companies.
Price said last week that he plans to divest shares valued as much as $631,000 in about 40 health companies. His financial disclosure form showed he owned shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd, an Australian company testing a drug that could be used to help treat multiple sclerosis. Last year, Price voted for a bill called the 21st Century Cures Act that would give the Food and Drug Administration $500 million to speed drug approvals. Another stock is Zimmer Biomet Holdings Inc., a medical-device company in Indiana. Legislation he introduced last year would have benefited companies that make hip and knee replacements.
Price’s financial adviser, Morgan Stanley, directed all stock trades in the account, according to a fact sheet provided Tuesday by Trump’s transition team. Morgan Stanley purchased the Zimmer shares in March 2016, according to the fact sheet. While Price introduced the legislation a few days after the purchase, he didn’t learn of the stock purchase until the following month, according to the fact sheet. In addition, Price began work on his legislation in 2015, the fact sheet shows.
On Tuesday, three Senate Democrats wrote HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, asking him to postpone Price’s hearing until ethics issues related to his stock trades are thoroughly investigated.
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