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HHS nominee Tom Price to get another grilling

Posted at 9:54 AM, Jan 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-24 09:54:26-05

Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services is back in the spotlight on Tuesday for a second round of grilling — and this time, the stakes are even higher.

Republican Rep. Tom Price will face questions from members of the Senate Finance Committee as he looks to be confirmed as the next HHS secretary, a Cabinet position that would give the congressman a prominent role in the Republican Party’s efforts to overhaul Obamacare.

Price is expected to feel the heat on two issues: his financial investments that have already raised a slew of ethics questions, and his interpretation of an executive order that Trump signed on Friday that seeks to weaken the Affordable Care Act.

Monday, Senate Finance Committee staff also released a bipartisan memo to lawmakers disclosing several red flags that were raised in the course of reviewing Price’s tax returns and financial disclosure statements.

An orthopedic surgeon who has been a member of the House of Representatives for 12 years, Price has confronted accusations of investing in companies related to his legislative work in Congress — and in some cases, repealing financial benefits from those investments.

Price has firmly denied any wrongdoing and insists that he has taken steps to avoid any conflicts of interests. But Democrats are sure to keep pressing the issue.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Patty Murray, the top Democrats on the Senate Finance and Health committees, sent a letter to Price on Monday asking the congressman for more information on his investments in health care stock.

“We need to understand the nature of all of Congressman Price’s accounts and the management agreements that govern them to determine how these health care trades were made and whether his broker’s role has any bearing on his compliance with House ethics rules,” Wyden said in a statement.

Price testified before the Senate Health Committee last week, but it is the Finance panel that will vote on advancing his nomination to the full Senate.

The timing of his confirmation is critical because Trump has said Republicans will release a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act as soon as Price is confirmed. GOP lawmakers have begun the legislative process to repeal large portions of Obamacare, but there is not yet clarity on crafting an alternative to the law.

Price, an ardent critic of Obamacare, has released a detailed proposal to overhaul the law. In last week’s hearing, Price was pressed on multiple occasions to clarify Trump’s — as well as his own — intentions on dismantling the health care law.

On Tuesday, Price is likely to be asked to address a sweeping executive order that Trump signed on his first day in office aimed at rolling back Obamacare.

It authorized agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from or delay implementation of any provision or requirement” or Obamacare that imposes a burden “to the maximum extend permitted by the law.” Much of the work in changing those regulations and guidelines will fall on Price and his agency if he is confirmed.

At least one Republican is raising a red flag on Trump’s executive action.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told reporters on Monday that the order was “very confusing” and difficult to interpret.

“I think that the executive order is very confusing, we really don’t know yet what the impact will be,” she said.