President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for health secretary defended his personal stock investments and proposals to dismantle Obamacare on Wednesday in response to questioning by a U.S. Senate panel.
Representative Tom Price, a Georgia orthopedic surgeon who has been in politics for more than 20 years, was chosen by fellow Republican Trump, who will become president on Friday, to head an agency that manages scores of healthcare programs.
Price laid out a timeline for making changes to President Barack Obama’s national healthcare law, often called Obamacare, agreeing with some Republicans that the plan to replace the law will be unveiled in the next few months but implemented over several years.
He said an overhaul of the law will initially focus on individual health plans sold on online exchanges and the Medicaid program for the poor but would not tackle changes to the Medicare program for elderly Americans.
Price also sought to reassure Senators that nobody is interested in “pulling the rug out on anybody.”
Price, who is seen as being likely to be approved for the post by the Republican-controlled Senate, also said he followed the law on his stock trades.
“There isn’t a single bit of information out there that I didn’t reveal to the public,” he said.
The Department of Health and Human Services runs the Medicare, Medicaid and President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which was enacted in 2010 and brought health insurance coverage to millions of Americans who previously lacked it.
The Wall Street Journal last month reported that Price had traded more than $300,000 worth of shares in health-related companies over the past four years while backing legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.
Price invested in biotech firm Amgen Inc, insurer Aetna Inc and drugmakers Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, Eli Lilly & Co and Pfizer Inc, the Journal said, citing stock trade filings that Price made with Congress.
Price has been a leading critic of Obamacare, the outgoing president’s signature domestic policy achievement. In a 2011 speech to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Price said he was “for every single piece of legislation that gets the federal government out of your back pocket and out of your exam room.”
His proposed Obamacare alternative involves a universal tax credit that critics say would not cover premium costs and out-of-pocket costs of health insurance in much of the country.
Congressional Republicans have been moving to repeal Obamacare, but have not agreed on a plan to replace it. Trump muddied the outlook by telling the Washington Post in an interview published on Sunday that his aim is to replace Obamacare with a plan with “insurance for everyone.”
Trump did not give the Post specifics, but said his plan was nearly finished and he was ready to unveil with leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress.
Price was testifying before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, one of two that oversee the Department of Health and Human Services. The other is the Senate Committee on Finance, which has set a hearing with Price for Jan. 24.
Only members of the finance committee will vote on whether to send Price’s nomination to the Senate floor for review.
“Congressman Price is immensely qualified to lead the Department of Health and Human Services,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican, said in a statement.
Senator Chuck Schumer, leader of the Senate Democrats, has called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Price violated a 2012 law barring members and employees of Congress from using nonpublic information for personal gain.
(Reporting by Toni Clarke and Susan Cornwell in Washington and Caroline Humer in New York; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Tom Brown)