Tom Price, President Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), might soon hold considerable regulatory power. HHS is the agency that oversees the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), among others. At a second confirmation hearing, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) questioned Price, who is currently serving as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 6th congressional district, and asked him whether or not he believes that vaccines cause autism. The question wasn’t just asked in light of Trump’s previous statements on the subject, but also because Price, once an orthopedic surgeon, reportedly has been a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).
The AAPS is a libertarian-leaning medical group that supports parental choice pertaining to vaccination, according to the Huffington Post. Jane Orient, a spokeswoman for the AAPS, reportedly said that the organization believes in “patient freedom.” Orient confirmed that Dr. Tom Price had been a member of the AAPS in 2016.
Rep. Price told Sen. Menendez that he believes that the science in that instance is that vaccines do not cause autism. Price began to speak more in depth about the topic, but he was only able to say, “individuals across our country who are very,” before Sen. Menendez cut him off, according to the Huffington Post. Price was quickly asked if he could commit to debunking false claims about public health concerns, and he swiftly offered what he will commit to.
“What I’ll commit to doing is doing the due diligence that the department is known for and must do to make certain that factual information is conveyed to,” but he was unable to finish his sentence again as Sen. Menendez cut him off once more, this time to ask him if that factual information would be dictated by science.
“Of course,” Dr. Price stated. While some staunch vaccine promoters say that Price’s AAPS membership should exclude him from consideration for such an important position within the government, Amy Pisani, the director of Every Child By Two, an organization that promotes public vaccination policies, reportedly did say that Price’s answer was reassuring, the Huffington Post reported.
Price, who graduated from medical school at the University of Michigan, completed his residency at Emory University. As a U.S. Representative, Price has served on the health subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. He fell under scrutiny, according to the New Yorker, for having stocks pertaining pharmaceutical and health insurance stocks while he sat on that subcommittee. A spokesman for Trump’s transition team states that Rep. Price had no knowledge of those particular stocks and that he had no input into their purchase. He stated that Price has a broker that handled his stocks. Price stated that he personally chose to invest in a small Australian company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. Price stated that he learned of the company from Representative Chris Collins of New York, according to the New York Times.
“We know that other members of Congress, including Democrats, have holdings in health care stocks and vote on health-related legislation,” the spokesman stated. Nevertheless, Tom Price stated in a letter to an ethics lawyer within HHS that he would divest himself of all health-related holdings and any other stocks that could be construed as a conflict of interest.
Price is not among Trump’s fellow billionaires and has a total estimated net worth of $13.6 million, according to the New York Times. Price told a group of students at Emory University that he had not voted for Trump in the Republican primary. Some of Price’s stances have leaned towards the libertarian side of conservatism in that he strongly has opposed the overregulation of individuals.
The New York Times reported that Price has written “a fairly detailed plan” for replacing the Affordable Care Act. When Tom Price practiced medicine, he was “constantly frustrated by having to seek insurance companies’ approval for his patients to get an expensive diagnostic test or physical therapy,” and he “resented when federal health regulators intervened in something he and his partners thought they were already doing well.” The chairman of the orthopedics department at Emory University School of Medicine told The Times that, at a clinic where Price once worked, he trained residents, oversaw patient care and sought to address inefficiencies like long wait times.
Price said that his plan was to “make certain that we have the highest quality health care and that every single American has access to affordable coverage.” President Trump has promised a plan that will offer “insurance for everybody.”
“Price, the recently-departed Chairman of the House Budget Committee, understands fiscal and health policy enough to figure out if there’s a way to achieve Trump’s objectives in a way that also satisfies congressional Republicans,” Forbes reported. “It won’t be easy—but it is definitely possible.”
During the hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Price whether, as a physician, he believed that parents should get their kids vaccinated according to the CDC’s schedule. Price stated that he thinks that vaccinations play a very important aspect of public health, but fell short of stating that all parents should vaccinate according to the schedule, the Huffington Post reported.
“I think that the science and healthcare has identified a very important aspect of public health, and that is the role of vaccinations,” he said.
Besides the FDA, CDC, NIH, and CMS, when confirmed, Tom Price will also oversee agencies such as the Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
[Featured Image by Win McNamee/Getty Images]