More controversy around Trump’s HHS pick, Tom Price

Price, the Wall Street Journal said, has traded upwards of $300,000 worth of shares in about 40 healthcare and life sciences companies in just the last four years. All are companies he would regulate as secretary of HHS.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30:  U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) speaks at the Brookings Institution November 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Rep. Price to become the next Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia) speaks at the Brookings Institution Nov. 30, 2016 in Washington, D.C. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Rep. Price to become the HHS secretary.

There is more controversy brewing about Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia), whom President-elect Donald Trump intends to nominate for secretary of the Department of Human Services.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on some potentially serious conflicts of interest in Price’s personal stock portfolio. Price, the newspaper said, has traded upwards of $300,000 worth of shares in about 40 healthcare and life sciences companies in just the last four years.

The time frame is important. In 2012, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act in the wake of “abusive” share trading by several lawmakers, according to the Journal.

The law effectively banned insider trading by members of Congress and their staff. It also required legislators to report any personal stock transactions within 45 days.

Price has held shares in pharma companies Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly & Co. and Pfizer, as well as health insurer Aetna. All are regulated in one way or another by HHS agencies.

He also has owned stock in Google parent Alphabet, which includes subsidiary Verily — formerly known as Google Life Sciences, the Journal reported. Another holding has been tobacco company Altria, which not only is a curious choice for a physician like Price, it is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration under the HHS umbrella.

According to the Journal, Price’s largest single purchase in that time was an investment of at least $50,000 in Innate Immunotherapeutics. The biggest shareholder — and a board member — of that Australian company is Rep. Chris Collins (R-New York), who happens to be on Trump’s transition team.

Innate Immuno’s share price has doubled since Price bought a stake in August, the Journal said, though it is still a penny stock.

Price does not have to divest himself from any healthcare-related company should he be confirmed as HHS secretary. According to the Journal, he would at least have to recuse himself from decisions related to such companies, though that requirement does have some gray areas about which HHS activities be relevant.

Price, an orthopedic surgeon, also has been backed by healthcare companies while in Congress. The story noted:

The healthcare industry is Mr. Price’s biggest patron. In 2015 and 2016, he received about $730,000 in campaign donations from health professionals, insurers and drug companies, more than from any other industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Over his six terms, he has raised about $15 million, and about $4.8 million came from the health sector. Insurer Aetna donated a total of $10,000 to Mr. Price in 2015 and 2016 through its PAC. Pfizer, the drug giant, donated $3,500 through its PAC. Eli Lilly gave $5,000.

Does any of this matter? Comments on the story were mixed, though one critic blamed the “democrat [sic] controlled media,” even though the Wall Street Journal  is owned by News Corp., part of conservative Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

A more thoughtful commenter offered this: “According to the ‘rules’ that members of Congress have to live by, Price did nothing wrong. Most Americans would consider what he and most other members of Congress are allowed to do to be unethical, but it’s not, until we push the members of Congress to live by the kind of ethical rules that the majority of Americans live by. The ball is in our court to force a change because the members of Congress are not going to do it with pressure from us.”

If you want unbiased analysis, don’t search for #tomprice on Twitter. Don’t do it!

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images