Democrats hope to dent Trump’s health pick, raise questions about stock trades

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President-elect Donald Trump is shaping his White House staff. Here's a look at the individuals he's offered positions to.
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President-elect Donald Trump is shaping his White House staff. Here's a look at the individuals he's offered positions to.

Senate Democrats are expected Wednesday to grill President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to oversee the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, focusing on what they say is a “pattern” of questionable stock trades involving his role as a member of Congress.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., goes before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in what is billed as a “courtesy” hearing since members don’t vote on Price’s nomination as health and human services secretary. That’s a function for the Senate Finance Committee.

Democrats may be short of the votes to block Price, but they signaled there will be little courtesy extended, asking Tuesday for the hearing to be postponed until questions about the trades Price made as a member of Congress have been fully investigated.

“Allowing Congressman Price’s nomination to move to a hearing with questions about his ethical qualifications left unanswered would send an early, clear and deeply troubling signal that the Senate’s critical oversight functions will be given a back seat to the demands of the Trump administration,” Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin said in a letter to committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

The three cited a December Wall Street Journal report that Price had traded more than $300,000 in shares of health companies while sponsoring and advocating legislation that might affect those companies’ stocks. And they noted The New York Times reported last week that Price and other insiders had been offered a stock deal for a tiny Australian drug maker that quintupled in value.

On Monday, CNN reported that Price had purchased stock in a medical device company and then introduced a bill that would have benefited the company. Trump’s campaign called the story “junk reporting” and said a financial adviser had designed Price’s portfolio and directed all trades in the account.

“The only pattern we see emerging is that Senate Democrats and their liberal media allies cannot abide the notion that Dr. Tom Price is uniquely qualified to lead HHS, and will stop at nothing to smear his reputation,” said Phil Blando, a Trump transition spokesman.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he had asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Price’s trading violated the Stock Act, a 2012 law aimed at combating insider trading.

“Our president-elect claims he wants to drain the swamp, but Congressman Price has spent his career filling it up,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Price would be Trump’s point man on dismantling President Barack Obama’s prize Affordable Care Act and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, is likely to quiz Price on the differences between Price’s replacement plan, which calls for tax credits but would not allow children to stay on their parents’ plans till age 26, and Trump’s promise over the weekend that he wanted “insurance for everybody.”

According to prepared remarks, Murray will say Price’s 2015 proposal “would cause millions of people to lose coverage, force many to pay more for their care and leave people with pre-existing conditions vulnerable to insurance companies rejecting them or charging them more.”

The hearing comes as a federal report estimates that 18 million Americans could lose health coverage in the first year under a partial Republican-led Obamacare repeal.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the number would grow to 32 million in 2026 after federal marketplace insurance subsidies were eliminated and now-newly-eligible Medicaid recipients lost their extended coverage.

The CBO report assumes the repeal measure would eliminate the health care law in two parts, starting with its coverage-mandate penalties and loss of marketplace subsidies. The analysis assumes that insurance market revisions – requiring insurers to cover all people regardless of pre-existing medical conditions – would be retained.

Under this scenario, the analysis found that premiums for marketplace coverage and all other individual insurance plans would rise 20 to 25 percent in the first year following repeal. Premiums would rise nearly 50 percent in the year after the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies are eliminated. Premiums would probably double by 2026 under this scenario.

Tony Pugh contributed to this report.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark