Trump’s health pick faces another round of criticism at hearing

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(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. department of health will likely face another round of criticism about his stock trading and questions about plans to overhaul Obamacare at a crucial Senate committee hearing that could clear the path for his nomination.

Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, is appearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee, the only one that votes on whether to send his nomination to the full Senate for consideration.

At his first hearing last week before the Senate health committee, Price was grilled by Democrats who have called for an investigation into his investments in medical stocks while handling health-related legislation. He didn’t provide details on how to replace Obamacare, a law that expanded coverage to 20 million people in the U.S. since it was passed in 2010.

Since that first hearing, Trump has issued an executive order on repealing the healthcare law within hours of his inauguration, commanding federal agencies to try to waive or delay requirements of Obamacare that impose economic or regulatory burdens on states, families and the health-care industry. Trump hasn’t indicated how he envisions the order being implemented, though his adviser Kellyanne Conway told ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday that the president wants to “almost immediately” get rid of the financial penalty imposed on Americans who don’t have health insurance.

When host George Stephanopoulos asked her if Trump would “stop enforcing that mandate,” Conway responded: “He may.”

Price will be a key player in the efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act if he’s confirmed as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. He repeatedly focused last week on the role of patients’ choice in picking their insurance.

“The patients will select the kinds of coverage they want,” he said. “Health savings accounts and high-deductible coverage are things that make a whole lot of sense for many individuals.”

At a briefing on Monday, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that lowering drug prices is going to be one of the key parts of reforming health care.

Ethics concerns
At last week’s hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Democratic senators questioned Price about the timing of some of his stock purchases. The investment that raised the most scrutiny was his 2015 purchase of shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd., an Australian company testing a drug that could be used to help treat multiple sclerosis. Unlike his other trades, which were handled by a financial broker, Price said he personally made the decision to invest in the drugmaker.

At the same time, negotiations were under way for a bill called the 21st Century Cures Act that would help speed drug approvals, which Price voted in favor of during its 2016 passage into law. Price said last week that he learned of the drugmaker from Representative Chris Collins, a Republican who sits on the board of the company, but wasn’t privy to non-public information before purchasing the stock.

Democrats also asked about other investments, which were done through the nominee’s financial adviser, Morgan Stanley. They included stock in medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet Holdings Inc., bought last year just before Price introduced legislation that would have benefited companies that make hip and knee replacements. While Price introduced the legislation a few days after the purchase, he didn’t learn of the stock purchase until the following month, according to a fact sheet from Trump’s transition team.

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said during the hearing in front of his committee a week ago that he expects the nominee could be confirmed in early February.

Vice President Mike Pence met Monday evening with House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, and other GOP leaders to talk about Obamacare.

“The president is committed to repeal and replace Obamacare simultaneously and we’re working out the details,” Pence told reporters.

Asked about the timing of legislation, he answered “soon.”

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