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HEALTHLINE NEWS

Trump’s Health Secretary Nominee: Anti-Abortion, Against Stem Cell Research, Thinks Tobacco Isn’t a Drug

While some Democrats have questioned Rep. Tom Price’s recent stock purchases, others are focusing on his conservative political views.

trump's health secretary

He’s against abortion rights and would like to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

He’s against human embryonic stem cell research.

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He doesn’t think tobacco should be regulated as a drug.

He has voted against the expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

But he did support a bill that would have limited monetary damages in malpractice lawsuits.

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Those are some of the positions taken by Dr. Tom Price, the Republican congressman from Georgia who President Donald Trump has nominated to be secretary of the Health and Human Services Department (HHS).

At confirmation hearings last week, Price was questioned by members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee about some of those views, as well as his support for President Trump’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

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Also last week a letter, signed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and dozens of other health-related groups, was sent to key senators asking that they get Price on the record about whether he supports mandatory vaccinations.

Then, there’s the question of some of Price’s stock purchases in recent years. Those activities have led some Democratic leaders to call for a delay in Price’s confirmation proceedings while these deals are investigated to see if any ethics rules were broken.

The process, however, is still pressing forward.

The Senate Finance Committee went ahead with its confirmation hearing today for Price, an orthopedic surgeon whose father and grandfather were also doctors.

At the hearing, Price once again defended his stock dealings and answered new questions about some of his tax deductions in recent years.

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Read more: Obamacare being dismantled: Now what? »

Those who support Price

Officials in the Trump administration did not respond to several requests from Healthline for an interview on Price’s positions on issues.

The congressman also has a number of supporters.

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The American Medical Association (AMA) is one of more than a half-dozen physician groups that have endorsed Price’s nomination.

In an opinion column, Dr. Patrice A. Harris, the AMA’s board chairwoman, said Price understands the challenges facing patients and is willing to listen directly to concerns expressed by the AMA and other organizations.

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She did point out her group doesn’t agree with Price on all issues. That includes his support for dismantling the ACA.

However, the AMA feels Price’s background is a major plus for the HHS secretary position.

“[His] physician background will provide important perspective within the president’s cabinet,” wrote Harris. “Too often, health policy makers and regulators give short shrift to the real-world impact their plans and decisions can have on how patient care is delivered.”

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[Dr. Price] will help steer the nation's largest healthcare agency through a period of change with a steady hand on the rudder.
Dr. J. Phillip Gingrey, former Georgia congressman

In a column on The Hill website, Dr. J. Phillip Gingrey, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, called Price “the doctor HHS needs.”

“He is a compassionate, competent, and smart man who will help steer the nation's largest healthcare agency through a period of change with a steady hand on the rudder,” wrote Gingrey.

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When he nominated Price in late November, Trump heaped praised on his choice.

"[Dr.] Price, a renowned physician, has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on healthcare policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity,” Trump said.

Read more: Will healthcare for veterans improve under President Trump? »

Abortion rights

Democrats haven’t challenged Price’s medical knowledge or leadership skills.

They do, however, have concerns over some of the six-term congressman’s political views.

The biggest might be on abortion rights.

In 2011, Price voted against federal health coverage that included abortion services.

In 2010 and 2011, he voted to prohibit funding for abortion services and organizations like Planned Parenthood.

In 2007, he voted in favor of granting the “preborn” equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

And in 2005 and 2007, he voted against programs for human embryonic stem cell research.

For his anti-abortion stance, Price has been given a 100 percent grade by the National Right to Life Committee.

Ross Baker, Ph.D., a political science professor at Rutgers University, said Price would be able to lobby congressional representatives as HHS secretary on abortion issues, but “his hands are tied” on taking action within his department because of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure.

Baker said Price would face the same situation with Planned Parenthood funding, although he could encourage states to pass new laws.

Read more: A wave of anti-abortion legislation expected in 2017 »

Obamacare, tobacco, drugs

Price has been a consistent, ardent foe of the ACA.

He voted against the landmark legislation in 2010 and in favor of the various repeal efforts in the following years.

He also supported a move to defund the ACA in 2010.

In 2015, he introduced the Empowering Patients First Act as a “patient-centered” solution to the ACA.

That bill did not become law, but it might be used as a guidepost for Republican proposals this year.

Baker said Price is a “man with a plan” when it comes to new healthcare laws. It’s also one of the congressman’s passions.

He really wants to get the federal government out of the [healthcare] business entirely.
Ross Baker, Rutgers University

“He really wants to get the federal government out of the [healthcare] business entirely,” Baker told Healthline. “It’s a calling for him.”

In 2007, Price voted against legalization that requires negotiated prescription drug prices for Medicare Part D.

In 2006, he voted in favor of a law that would deny nonemergency treatment to people who couldn’t afford the copayment under Medicare.

In the past, he has voted in favor of proposals to limit malpractice awards in lawsuits.

In 2009, Price voted against a bill to regulate tobacco as a drug.

And, as a congressman, Price, reportedly a cigar smoker, tried to exempt the cigar industry from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations that require premium, hand-rolled cigars to comply with the same testing and labeling that smokeless tobacco products follow.

As HHS secretary, Price would oversee the FDA, but Baker says the new HHS secretary probably won’t push too hard on the tobacco rules.

He said Price’s time will be taken up by the ACA replacement plans.

“He’s going to have to pick his targets,” Baker said.

Read more: What to expect in health news in 2017 »

The questions over stock purchases

Price has faced some fire during his confirmation hearings on a total of $300,000 worth of health-related stock he has purchased the past four years.

Democrats say some of those purchases and sales came while Price was dealing with healthcare legislation.

One of the most scrutinized purchases was a so-called “sweetheart deal” offered to Price and another congressional representative as well as other U.S. investors last year by the small Australian biotech firm Innate Immunotherapies.

Another deal that is under the microscope involved shares Price purchased last spring from Zimmer Biomet, a medical device manufacturer.

A report on CNN last week stated that Price invested in the company, then introduced legislation to help it.

Price has said his broker purchases stock without his prior knowledge, although he does approve the sales on a quarterly and annual basis.

Price hasn’t answered the question of why he didn’t tell his broker to avoid any health-related stocks.

Price denies any wrongdoing and has stated he will divest himself from 43 companies he has an interest in 90 days after he is confirmed as HHS secretary.

The Democrats’ charges of improper behavior produced a flurry of statements last week from Trump administration officials.

In those emails sent to Healthline and other news organization, Trump officials asked CNN to retract its Zimmer Biomet story, which they called “junk reporting.”

They also sent out a release detailing stock holdings from some of the Democrats who criticized Price.

Baker said “it would have been prudent” for Price to advise his broker to avoid health-related stocks.

He added that Price and other Trump nominees are facing new scrutiny because of the 2012 STOCK Act, which cracks down on the financial dealings involving members of Congress.

“It gives more ammunition for the interrogations,” Baker said.

Nonetheless, Baker expects Price to be confirmed as the HHS secretary. He said it’s “very rare” for a president’s cabinet choices to be denied.

However, that might not dissuade Democrats from some political theater at Price’s hearings.

“Democrats are out for blood,” said Baker. “They know they’re not going to win, but they want to cut him up a bit.”

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