Tom Price, President Donald Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services, has resigned after taking private and military jets at taxpayer expense while heading one of the U.S.’s largest government agencies.
Trump named Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as acting secretary.
Price, 62, quit after it was revealed by Politico that he took more than two dozen private flights at taxpayer expense as well as trips to Europe, Africa and Asia on military aircraft. The HHS department’s Office of Inspector General launched an investigation, as did Congress. Price is the first cabinet secretary to leave the administration, though Trump’s volatile White House has already seen the departure of several top staffers.
Price’s seven-month round trip in and out of the health agency was bracketed by questions about his conduct, starting with trading of stock in health care companies and ending with the jet trips. Price said he would write a check for the chartered jet trips to the U.S. government for $51,887.31 to cover his seat.
Price is leaving as an HHS agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is preparing to start the annual enrollment period for Medicare plans, on Oct. 15, and as the agency is preparing to start the annual open enrollment period for individual major medical coverage, on Nov. 1.
Price’s exit could also distract from administration legislative priorities, like tax reform. It may also raise further questions about other agency heads who have taken taxpayer-funded trips on private aircraft, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, as reported by CBS; and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, according to the Washington Post.
During the administration’s months-long attempt to get Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Price was never an obvious force. He did, however, let the law whither under his administrative tenure. His agency slashed advertising funding meant to get people to sign up for insurance plans sold under the law, and cut budgets for local groups of “navigators” who helped people find the right plan for them. HHS also shortened the time when people could sign up for coverage, and took other steps that critics decried as “sabotage.”
Seema Verma (Photo: Senate Finance)
Price’s successor will have to decide whether to try and make the Affordable Care Act succeed, attempt to modify it by rewriting its rules and regulations, or allow it to slide into neglect.
One obvious candidate to succeed Price is Seema Verma, who leads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and is directly responsible for running much of the Affordable Care Act. Another is Scott Gottlieb, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner who has implemented several programs on drug prices and modernizing the agency.
Verma is seen as close to the White House. She worked with Vice President Mike Pence to implement the then-governor’s Healthy Indiana Plan, and has regularly visited Capitol Hill to help push Obamacare repeal efforts.