The Senate is on track to confirm Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as health and human services secretary late Thursday or early Friday morning.
And at a moment when congressional Republicans are struggling to figure out what comes next, the Georgia legislator and former doctor already has a plan for how to abolish Obamacare.
Price is the author of the Empowering Patients First Act, one of the most thorough and detailed proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Once he’s confirmed, he’s expected to craft the Trump administration’s plan for repealing and replacing the law.
But much of Price’s nomination didn’t center on his specific plans for health care. Instead, it often focused on his trading of stocks whose value was affected by the legislation he was working on.
My colleague Libby Nelson recently looked at some of the instances that have come to light and raised suspicion:
- In March 2016, according to a CNN investigation, Price bought up to $15,000 worth of stock in Zimmer Biomet, a medical device company that specializes in hip and knee implants. Two days later, he introduced legislation to delay a regulation that would have hurt the company’s business by changing how Medicare and Medicaid reimburse those procedures. Zimmer Biomet then donated to his campaign. (Price says he was not aware of the purchase, which was made by his broker.)
- Price also bought shares in six pharmaceutical companies a week after a federal regulation was proposed that would lower reimbursements for doctors who prescribe expensive drugs for cancer and arthritis, according to Time magazine. The regulation was meant to help control health care costs by encouraging doctors to prescribe generic drugs and cheaper alternatives instead, and would have hurt pharmaceutical companies’ bottom lines. The companies lobbied against the regulation, and Price sponsored legislation to block it. It was never enacted.
- Price was able to take advantage of a special deal in another biotech firm, Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian company developing a multiple sclerosis drug, according to Kaiser Health News. Price was offered discounted shares for “sophisticated investors” in summer 2016 after making a smaller investment in the company in 2015. (A fellow member of Congress, Rep. Chris Collins, is on the company’s board; members of the Collins family own about 20 percent of the company.)
Democrats initially hoped these reports would be enough to derail Price’s legislation. Instead, they seem to have set up a party-line vote that will lead to a late-night confirmation.
What happens after Price is confirmed?
Republicans are still far from coalescing around an Obamacare replacement plan, and President Trump has repeatedly said he is waiting for Price to come into office before introducing his own proposal. Price himself has quite clear views on what should happen, which he detailed in his Empowering Patients plan. Price’s plan would replace Obamacare with a plan that does more to benefit the young, healthy, and rich — and disadvantages the sick, old, and poor.
Price will also come into office with a standing executive order to reduce Obamacare regulations and taxes to the full extent permitted by law — the first executive order President Trump signed on the day he took office.
Where Price will go with this directive remains to be seen. When the executive order was released, some observers expected he could use the authority to effectively refuse to enforce the individual mandate. However, there have been recent signs that the Trump administration might instead be looking to shore up the individual insurance markets. With Price in office, we could start to get a better sense of how that executive order plays out.