Despite indications that he planned to fight for his job, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned his position amid accusations of abusing taxpayer funds. An HHS probe was determining whether Price violated the law when he used charter jets at a cost of almost $400,000 for travel. In addition, Price used military aircraft for trips to Africa, Asia and other areas of the world, increasing the cost of his travel to over $1 million in taxpayer funds.
On Friday morning, President Donald Trump told reporters that he thought highly of Price but that he was uncomfortable with how the secretary’s travel looked to Americans who elected him. The president recognized how charter plane travel looked to people struggling to make ends meet. President Trump had already accepted Price’s resignation when he made those statements. In the letter, Price said that he decided to resign because recent events created a distraction from the objectives of the administration and that success on issues was more important than any one person.
No Stranger to Controversy
This was not the first time Price had come under fire from Democrats. While a member of the House of Representatives, it was revealed that Mr. Price purchased between $50,000 and $100,000 of stock in Innate Immunotherapies, an Australian biomedical firm. That firm may have benefitted from a bill that helped accelerate clinical trials for products that could be manufactured by the firm. There were also concerns about his acceptance of campaign contributions from the healthcare industry, contributions that totaled more than $700,000 from healthcare providers.
The top runner for Price’s replacement is Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). She has overseen many state-level healthcare reforms that have been deemed successful, and she’s received bipartisan support in the past. Scott Gottlieb has also been mentioned as a replacement, but there are thoughts that his connection to the pharmaceutical company could be a liability for his confirmation. Bobby Jindal, who served as assistant secretary of HHS in 2001, is another name that has come up to replace Price, but his comments about President Trump during the campaign could eliminate his chances for appointment.
Fate of Healthcare Plan
Some believe that Price would have blocked any attempts for the Trump administration to work with Democrats to repair the ACA rather than repeal and replace the law. Because Republicans did not pass the bill before September 30, they must now create a bipartisan bill that will require Democratic support to pass. Experts say that Price worked to undermine the law and often ignored facts when he spoke of the Republican replacement options. With a less polarizing leader, which many feel Verma may represent, it is possible that a bipartisan healthcare bill could become a reality in the near future.
There are still may questions regarding who may take the lead at HHS, with the list of replacements for Price growing by the day. Regardless of who takes over the department, the conversation will focus on creating a healthcare bill that works for everyone.