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HHS Nominee Tom Price Reveals Plan To Avoid Conflicts Of Interest


Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services will sit for his confirmation hearing next week. Tom Price is a Georgia congressman and an orthopedic surgeon. He's also an active investor, or he has been. In paperwork made public today, Price says he's planning to sell off many of his individual stock holdings if he's confirmed as a member of Trump's cabinet.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us to talk about Price's plan to avoid conflicts of interest. And Scott, Price actually has to meet more stringent conflict of interest rules than the president himself, right?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right. The president is exempt from those conflict of interest rules, but Cabinet secretaries do have to comply. And the secretary of Health and Human Services is under a particularly powerful microscope, Robert. Remember; health care is a huge industry in the United States, more than a sixth of the whole economy. It's heavily regulated by the federal government.

And we're in a moment right now where those regulations could change in a big way - not only the possible repeal the Affordable Care Act but changes to Medicaid, maybe changes to Medicare. So if he's confirmed as health secretary, Tom Price would have the power to write regulations that can make or cost people a lot of money.

Just take a look at what happened yesterday when President-elect Trump merely suggested during his news conference that the government should drive a harder bargain when it comes to pharmaceutical prices. The Nasdaq biotech index dropped 3 percent in a single day. So Price could be a market mover, and consequently, there's a lot of focus on the steps he's taking to avoid conflicts of interest.

SIEGEL: So what steps is Price taking to avoid conflicts of interest?

HORSLEY: Well, he plans to resign his position as managing partner of his own firm, which is called Chattahoochee Associates. He'll continue to hold a financial stake in that partnership, though, along with a stake in a couple of partnerships that own property and rent space to health care tenants. Now, he's promised to recuse himself from any government decisions that directly affect those businesses unless he gets a waiver.

Price has also agreed to sell within 90 days all of his stock holdings in a dozen different categories, some obvious like pharmaceutical or health insurance companies, some categories not so obvious, like railroads and utilities. And Price provided an A-to-Z list of companies he plans to sell shares in from Aetna and Amazon to Xerox and Zimmer Biomet.

SIEGEL: Literally an A-to-Z.


SIEGEL: Very well done. Price's financial filings show that he's been a fairly active investor in the stock market. How would you describe the reaction to his trading?

HORSLEY: Well, it has raised some eyebrows. The Wall Street Journal reported late last month that over the last four years, Price made hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of stock trades in health-related companies while he was sitting on some congressional committees that have a lot of sway over the health care industry.

He traded stock in about 40 different companies, including, according to The Wall Street Journal, 70 trades on a single day last year. One of his biggest investments was last summer when he bought at least $50,000 worth of stock in an Australian biotech company. And since that time, the shares in that company have more than doubled in price.

So as I say, that's attracted some scrutiny. Maybe did the congressman know something about that company that the public didn't? A Democratic lawmaker has asked the FCC to investigate, although a Trump transition spokesman dismissed that request as just political grousing.

SIEGEL: Should we assume that Price is going to be asked about this at his confirmation hearing next week?

HORSLEY: Yeah, it could be a source of some questions. Congress did pass a law a few years ago barring lawmakers from trading inside information that they get as a result of their work as lawmakers. The law also requires them to disclose any trades in a timely manner, and that's how we know about this activity by Price. But as he's finding out, the rules are stricter for those who serve in the executive branch.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.