Trump's health secretary nominee Tom Price invested in company, then introduced Bill to help it: Report

Dr Tom Price reportedly bought shares in a medical device manufacturer just days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited a company he invested in.
Dr Tom Price reportedly bought shares in a medical device manufacturer just days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited a company he invested in.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for health secretary reportedly bought shares in a medical device manufacturer just days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company.

The new revelation reported by CNN adds to concerns among ethics experts that Dr Tom Price may have inappropriately used inside information while purchasing shares in a company.

Dr Price bought between US$1,001 and US$15,000 (S$1,431 and S$21,440) worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, one of the world's leading manufacturers of knee and hip implants, said CNN, which reviewed House records.

It said less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman and orthopaedic surgeon introduced the Healthy In-patient Procedures (HIP) Act. It would have delayed until 2018 a Centre for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation that industry analysts had warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

After Dr Price offered his Bill to provide Zimmer Biomet and other companies relief from the CMS regulation, the company donated to the congressman's re-election campaign, according to the report.

The new revelation is the latest example of Dr Price trading stock in a health care firm and at the same time, pursuing legislation that could impact a company's share price, said CNN. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that he traded roughly US$300,000 in shares over the past four years in health companies while pushing for legislation that could impact them.

CNN quoted Dr Price's spokesman Phil Blando as saying: "Any effort to connect the introduction of Dr Price's legislation, co-sponsored with Democrats, to a campaign contribution is demonstrably false. Dr Price is fully complying with the recommendations put forth by the Office of Government Ethics."

The office disclosed last week that Dr Price said he would sell tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock in health companies, including Aetna and Pfizer, while retaining investments tied to some private medical practices.

The agreement was disclosed by the office as part of the watchdog agency's clearing of Dr Price's financial disclosures, Bloomberg reported. It will allow the Senate Finance Committee to schedule a hearing to discuss and vote on his nomination after they finish reviewing documents he turned in.

While he is divesting the stocks, Dr Price said he would retain an interest in entities that own property rented to healthcare tenants, including Chattahoochee Associates LP, according to Bloomberg. He said he would step down as a managing partner of Chattahoochee Associates once he's confirmed.

"I don't see any issue with his status in the private practice," Dr Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Centre, said in an e-mail. "It would be a stretch to say he would benefit from decisions he made at HHS (Health and Human Services)."

The disclosure form shows Dr Price owns assets that range in value from US$1 million to US$2.6 million. It reports that the value of assets he will divest from 43 companies range from US$65,037 to US$631,006, according to Bloomberg.