Tag Archives: tom price

Senators demand answers about possible probe of HHS Secretary Price

Nine senators are pushing U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reveal what he knows about a reported investigation into Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s stock trades that a top federal prosecutor might have begun before being fired by the Trump administration this month.

In a letter Wednesday, seven senators — six Democrats plus Vermont independent Bernie Sanders — called on Sessions to assure them that any investigation of Price — or others connected to the Trump administration — would be “allowed to continue unimpeded.”

Three Democratic senators sent a different letter a day earlier, asking Sessions to “provide greater clarity” about why Manhattan’s former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, was fired and whether any investigation of Price was a factor in Bharara’s removal.

ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, reported March 17 that Price was being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office for his stock trades, though it did not specify which trades Bharara was investigating before his dismissal. The website attributed its report to an unnamed person familiar with the U.S. attorney’s office, and neither the Justice Department nor other news media organizations have confirmed its existence.

If an investigation had begun, it would be hard to derail. But investigations of federal officials are always sensitive cases, said Donald Langevoort, a securities law professor at Georgetown University.

“The higher up the food chain you go, the more prominent the person is, the more confident you better be that you have the evidence you can present to a jury,” he said. “But I think any attempt to quash an investigation would backfire considerably.”

Price, a prominent Republican congressman until he joined President Donald Trump’s Cabinet this year, was questioned extensively at his confirmation hearings about stock purchases he made in health care, pharmaceutical and medical device companies while serving on the House of Representatives’ health subcommittee.

The activity raised conflict-of-interest concerns for some members of Congress because Price’s trades overlapped with his sponsorship of bills, advocacy or votes on issues related to those companies or their industries.

The Democrats  called attention to Price’s investment in a small Australian biotech firm, Innate Immunotherapeutics, which Price testified he learned about from another congressman, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), Innate’s largest shareholder.

Price bought most of his shares at discounted prices in two private stock placements in 2016 offered to a small number of sophisticated investors — many with personal or professional ties to Collins.

Congressional Democrats slammed Price at his hearings for buying shares at advantageous prices not available to all investors. Some questioned whether Price had violated insider trading laws or the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which bans members of Congress from trading on stocks using information they received in carrying out their official duties.

“Despite the many unanswered questions that remained, Republicans rushed Price’s nomination through the Senate without waiting for answers,” seven senators said in Wednesday’s letter.

When he was confirmed Feb. 10, Price agreed to divest his stock holdings within 90 days of  taking his post. An HHS spokesperson said Price has completed those divestitures but declined to provide further information.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was the only senator who signed both letters to Sessions.

Other names on Wednesday’s letter were Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

Tuesday’s letter was also signed by Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Sessions’ office confirmed it had received Tuesday’s letter from the senators but declined to comment on either one. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan also had no comment.

Published under a Creative Commons license. Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Trump team rolling back data collection on older LGBT adults

Hardly two months into the Trump administration — and only one month after Congress confirmed notoriously anti-LGBT Tom Price as health secretary  — the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has eliminated questions about LGBT people from two critical surveys.

The administration is already rolling back data collection on LGBT people who receive certain federal programs, making it impossible to assess whether key programs for seniors and people with disabilities are meeting the needs of LGBT Americans.

Putting LGBT older adults at risk

The National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants is an annual, national survey of people who receive select services funded under the Older Americans Act, or OAA, the primary vehicle for delivering social support and nutrition programs to older adults in our country.

These essential programs include home delivered meals, congregant meals, transportation, caregiver support, and senior centers. The survey obtains performance outcome information, identifies service gaps, and supports program improvements. Policymakers and advocates rely on data to ensure OAA programs are meeting their goals without leaving anyone out.

The National Survey started collecting data on LGBT program recipients in 2014, and continued to do so in both 2015 and 2016 (available on file with CAP).

HHS’ proposed 2017 protocol, publicly announced on March 13, omits the survey’s only question about sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite the fact that LGBT people have been erased from the survey, the notice announcing the proposed survey alleges that “no changes” were made to the survey.

LGBT older adults face acute levels of economic insecurity, social isolation, and discrimination — including difficulty accessing critical aging services and supports. Data on LGBT program recipients would help HHS ensure its programs are meeting the need of LGBT seniors.

By rolling back data collection on LGBT people, HHS is giving up the tools it needs to ensure its effectively and equitably reaching all elders, including LGBT elders.

Ending data collection on LGBT people with disabilities

The Trump administration is also targeting LGBT individuals with disabilities, removing questions on LGBT identities from the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living.

A proposed redesign of the performance report was issued in January 2017 and did include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity; however, a revised version, issued in March 2017, omits these questions.

The Annual Report helps HHS evaluate the effectiveness and equity of programs designed to serve people with disabilities and ensure they can live independently in their homes and communities.

Available research suggests that LGBT people, especially LGBT older adults, face significant barriers to accessibility services. For this reason, it is particularly concerning that HHS is abdicating its responsibility to ensure the programs it funds equitably serve LGBT people with disabilities.

Why data matters

Data on LGBT program recipients could reveal disparities in how these HHS programs—which provide a critical safety net for to seniors and people with disabilities—serve LGBT people, potentially indicating discrimination or other barriers to access in the programs.

By rolling back data collection, the Department of Health and Human Services is throwing away the tools to ensure the department reaches vulnerable LGBT people in programs ranging from home delivered meals and senior center group meals, to transportation, caregiver support, and health promotion services.

Federal data collection on LGBT people is already scarce, but rolling back collection on crucial safety net programs is particularly disturbing. LGBT people experience overt and systematic discrimination across all areas of life—from education to housing, healthcare, employment, and the public square.

As a result, LGBT people face acute levels of income insecurity, making it particularly important that federal safety net programs meet the needs of the LGBT community.

By removing this data, the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Price risk erasing the experiences LGBT seniors and people with disabilities and making it impossible for HHS to identify and end disparities and discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs.

Sejal Singh is the Campaigns and Communications Manager for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress. Laura E. Durso is the Vice President of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress. Aaron Tax is the director of federal government relations for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders.

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HHS pick Price made ‘brazen’ stock trades while his committee was under scrutiny

Health and Human Services secretary nominee Tom Price showed little restraint in his personal stock trading during the three years that federal investigators were bearing down on a key House committee on which the Republican congressman served, a review of his financial disclosures shows.

Price made dozens of health industry stock trades during a three-year investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission that focused on the Ways and Means Committee, according to financial disclosure records he filed with the House of Representatives. The investigation was considered the first test of a law passed to ban members of Congress and their staffs from trading stock based on insider information.

Price was never a target of the federal investigation, which scrutinized a top Ways and Means staffer, and no charges were brought. But ethics experts say Price’s personal trading, even during the thick of federal pressure on his committee, shows he was unconcerned about financial investments that could create an appearance of impropriety.

“He should have known better,” Richard Painter, former White House chief ethics attorney under President George W. Bush and a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School said of Price’s conduct during the SEC inquiry.

As Price awaits a Senate vote on his confirmation, Senate Democrats and a number of watchdog groups have asked the SEC to investigate whether Price engaged in insider trading with some of his trades in health care companies. Price has said he abided by all ethics rules, although he acknowledged to the Senate Finance Committee that he did not consult the House Ethics Committee on trades that have now become controversial.

The SEC’s inquiry began in 2013, as it battled Ways and Means for documents to develop its case.

A few weeks ago, the day before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the SEC quietly dropped its pursuit of committee documents without explanation, according to federal court records. No charges were brought against the staffer, Brian Sutter, who is now a health care lobbyist. Sutter’s lawyer declined to comment.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen, described Price’s volume of stock trades during the SEC inquiry as “brazen,” given the congressman’s access to nonpublic information affecting the companies’ fortunes.

“The public is seeing this and they really don’t like it,” said Holman whose watchdog group recently filed complaints about Price’s stock trading with both the SEC and the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Trump administration officials and Price have dismissed questions that news reports and lawmakers have raised about stock trades coinciding with official actions to help certain companies, saying Price’s brokers chose the stocks independently and all of his conduct was transparent.

After acknowledging that he asked his broker to buy stock in an Australian drug company, he told the Senate Finance Committee that he did not direct his broker to make other trades.

“To the best of my knowledge, I have not undertaken such actions,” he wrote in response to finance committee questions. “I have abided by and adhered to all ethics and conflict of interest rules applicable to me.”

An analysis of Price’s trades shows that he bought health stocks in 2007, the first year Congress financial disclosures are posted online. In 2011, the the first year Price sat on the health subcommittee, he traded no health-related stocks, according to his financial disclosures filed with Congress.

That same year, members were facing public criticism because of a book detailing how they could use inside information and a “60 Minutes” investigation focused on how members and staff could legally use inside information to gain from their own stock trades.

In 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act to rein in insider trading by members and require more disclosure. Public watchdog groups suggested at the time that the law would curb the practice.

That year, after his one-year break in health care trades, Price resumed investing in health care companies.

Along with investments in technology, financial services and retail stocks, he also bought and sold stock in companies that could be impacted by actions of his subcommittee, which has a role in determining rates the government pays under the Medicare program.

Health care firms spend heavily to influence members of Congress, lobbying on health matters, funding political campaigns and seeking favor with Medicare officials who decide how much the program will pay for certain drugs and devices. The Food and Drug Administration holds similar power, approving or putting conditions on drug and device use.

Beyond his personal investments in health care companies, Price has also advocated their interests in letters to officials and proposed laws, government records show.

In 2012, disclosure records show Price sold stock in several drug firms, including more than $110,000 worth of Amgen stock. Amgen’s stock price had steadily climbed out of a recession-level slump, but Price’s sale came a few weeks before the company pleaded guilty to illegally marketing an anemia drug.

By 2013, the health subcommittee was at the center of a major conflict between Medicare, which sets Medicare Advantage rates, and the insurance industry. Medicare issued a notice early that year announcing its intention to reduce Medicare Advantage rates by 2.3 percent as part of a major cost-cutting initiative.

That prompted fierce lobbying by the health insurance industry. Members of Congress, including Price, wrote a letter to Marilyn Tavenner, then acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, protesting the rate cut, saying the decrease would “disadvantage vulnerable beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions.”

Ultimately, Medicare decided not to cut rates but instead, to increase them. Yet an hour before Medicare announced the change, a Height Securities analyst fired off a “flash” report to 200 clients that touched off a surge of trading.

The analyst’s report said a political deal was hatched on Capitol Hill to prevent the cuts as a condition for moving forward on Tavenner’s confirmation. Medicare officials increased rates by nearly 4 percent, a change that would positively impact the bottom lines of health insurance companies.

The SEC began looking for the leak’s source, and within weeks, FBI agents began interviewing staffers at the Ways and Means Committee, court records show.

They discovered communications between Sutter and a health care lobbyist. The HHS Inspector General also began a probe, and federal prosecutors briefly examined the matter activity as well.

As the case unfolded, Price bought more health care-related stocks, according to his financial disclosures. He has testified that his broker directed all of the trades, except for his investments in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian company partly owned by Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), according to Collins’ disclosures. An HHS spokesman said Monday that Price held three broker-directed accounts.

Ethics experts have said that Price should have further distanced himself by placing his assets in a blind trust.

On April 30, 2013, Price bought $2,093 worth of stocks in Incyte, a company that develops cancer drugs; $2,076 in Onyx Pharmaceuticals, a drugmaker that would soon merge with a larger drug firm; and $2,097 in Parexel International, a consultancy that helps drugs and devices win FDA approval, according to the financial disclosure records.

The same day, Price shed shares of Express Scripts, a drug management firm, and Danaher, which makes products hospitals and doctor’s offices using for testing and diagnostics. In August of that year, he bought a $2,429 stake in Jazz Pharmaceuticals, which makes sleep and cancer drugs.

On May 6, 2014, the SEC served its first subpoena for the Ways and Means Committee documents. The committee launched a vigorous fight, appealing a federal district judge’s ruling that it should comply with the SEC subpoena.

Price continued his health stock trades, including $1,000 to $15,000 in drug firms Amgen, Eli Lilly and Co., Pfizer, Biogen and Bristol-Myers Squibb. He also bought stocks in Aetna, a major health insurer, and Athenahealth, which sells electronic medical record and medical billing software. In 2016, he also increased his investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics.

The purchase became controversial because both he and Collins bought stock in a private placement at a discounted price.

“You’re asking for trouble if you have access to nonpublic information about the health care industry and you’re buying and selling health care stocks,” Painter said.

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Publication of this story here is provided for under a creative commons agreement.

Extensive stock trading by Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services raises questions

Public Citizen says the Office of Congressional Ethics and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission should look more closely at the stock trading activity of U.S. Reps. Tom Price of Georgia and Chris Collins of New York for conflicts of interest and possible insider trading.

Price is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Extensive stock trading activity in industries that Price and Collins oversee as congressmen, and unusually good timing and financial benefits of those stock trades, raise red flags about the potential use of insider information,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The public information available falls short of hard evidence of insider trading, but the patterns of trading activity certainly warrant further investigation to determine if it occurred.”

Since 2009, according to congressional financial disclosure reports, Price has conducted over 630 trades on the stock market, many of which involve the pharmaceutical and health care sectors that he oversees as chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee and as a member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health.

Price’s colleague Collins also is a prolific trader of health care investments on the stock market, according to news and disclosure reports.

Collins, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, is a board member and the largest shareholder of a major biotech company, Australia’s Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited — a company in which both Price and Collins made major stock purchases within days of each other, according to financial disclosure reports.

“Collins purchased 4 million shares in August in the company whose board he sits on , and Price followed up with his own major stock purchase in the company two days later,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The stock value doubled in the three months following their investments. That’s quite good luck. This is worthy of investigation to determine whether any wrongful conduct occurred.”

Since passage of the STOCK Act in 2012, members of Congress have been subject to the same laws against insider trading that apply to everyone else. Additionally, congressional ethics rules warn members to avoid substantial conflicts of interest that may cast aspersions on the integrity of their office. Rules also mandate that members may not use their office for personal gain.

Public Citizen’s letter asks that the OCE and SEC investigate the stock trading activity of Price and Collins for potential violations of insider trading laws and conflict of interest rules and regulations.

On the Web

Read Public Citizen’s letter.

2016: Highs, lows and farewells

Continue reading 2016: Highs, lows and farewells

Trump to nominate women’s health opponent for health secretary

Planned Parenthood Federation of America today expressed concerns about President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to nominate U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to be secretary of health and human services.

Tom Price poses a grave threat to women’s health in this country. If Price had his way, millions of women could be cut off from Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services like birth control, cancer screenings and STD tests. From his plan to take no-copay birth control away from 55 million women and allow insurance companies to charge women more for the same health coverage, to his opposition to safe and legal abortion, Price could take women back decades.

Tom Price has consistently demonstrated that he’s out of touch with women’s lives. Despite the fact that 20.2 million women need publicly funded contraception, he has falsely stated that every single woman in America already has access to affordable birth control.

Our nation’s HHS Secretary should aim to break down barriers to health care. Instead, Tom Price wants to build more. These barriers to care have a disproportionate impact on those who already face inequities and barriers in the health care system – including people of color, people who live in rural areas, people with low incomes, and immigrant communities.

Fear of a Health and Human Services Secretary like Tom Price is why Planned Parenthood has seen a significant increase in in online appointments for birth control, with a more than ten-fold increase in people seeking IUDs the first week following the election. People are worried they will lose their health care.

The Senate should give Representative Price’s record the full examination it deserves.  Each Senator must decide whether a man who wants take away no co-pay birth control coverage from 55 million women is the right choice to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, we at Planned Parenthood will continue to work to ensure that everyone — including the 2.5 million patients we serve each year — has access to the basic health care they depend on, no matter what.

Despite clear evidence to the contrary, Price believes “there’s not one woman” who doesn’t have access to birth control.

  • Hart Research poll found that one in three women voters have struggled to afford prescription birth control, including 55 percent of young women aged 18 to 34.
  • According to the Guttmacher Institute, 20.2 million women in the U.S. were in need of publicly funded family planning services like birth control in 2014, an increase of 1 million since 2010.

Price wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and has supported 65 attempts to repeal it, which means:

  • 55 million women would lose access to no-copay preventive services, including birth control, STI screenings, and life-saving preventive services such as breast cancer screenings and pap tests.
  • Being a woman could once again be considered a pre-existing condition, allowing health insurers to deny health coverage to tens of millions of women.
  • Women would pay an estimated $1 billion more than men for the same health care plans if “gender rating” was allowed again.
  • Millions of low-income women would lose their health insurance, which they have gained through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. In 2015, Medicaid covered 17% of women ages 19-64 (16.66  million), up from 10% in 2008 (pre-ACA).

Price wants to cut off women’s access to basic health services at Planned Parenthood, which has already been proven to have devastating consequences:

  • A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that blocking patients from going to Planned Parenthood in Texas was associated with a 35% decline in women in publicly funded programs using the most effective methods of birth control and a dramatic 27% increase in births among women who had previously accessed injectable contraception through those programs.
  • Blocking patients from care at health centers  has a disproportionate impact on communities of color, who already face systemic barriers in accessing quality health care. For example, in Texas, researchers found that more than half of women reported at least one barrier to reproductive health care. Spanish-speaking women from Mexico were more likely to report three or more barriers.
  • In Wisconsin and Texas, researchers found that fewer women could access lifesaving cancer screenings following the closure of Planned Parenthood health centers.  An increase in 100 miles from the nearest health center resulted in a 6 percent decrease in the rate women obtained breast exams, and 9 percent decrease in Pap tests.
  • The CBO projects that the net cost to taxpayers if Planned Parenthood is defunded would be $130 million over 10 years because of an increase in unintended pregnancies without the high-quality contraceptive care we provide.

Despite Price’s repeated statements that “patients, families and doctors should be making health decisions, not Washington DC,” he would interfere with women’s access to safe and legal abortion. In Congress, he has routinely voted in favor of dangerous bills that would:

  • Restrict abortion access;
  • Block access to basic preventive care at Planned Parenthood;
  • Interfere in the doctor-patient relationship;
  • Prevent medical students from being trained on how to provide abortion;
  • Block insurance coverage of abortion;
  • Allow bosses to take away birth control.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America is many things to many people. We are a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital health care services, sex education, and sexual health information to millions of women, men, and young people.