As Cabinet nominee Tom Price faces a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, a newly released trove of documents sheds further light on how he interacted as a congressman with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the massive agency he may soon oversee.
Letters provided by CMS after an open records request show that the Health and Human Services pick has repeatedly stepped up in favor of drug firms, device manufacturers and higher physician payments, leading some experts to question whether he would be a reliable advocate for the public’s health.
The documents reveal additional instances where Price, a doctor from Georgia, set aside his priority of budget discipline in favor of special medical interests, including by sending a letter endorsing a medical procedure that Medicare later decided not to pay for, pointing to weak evidence that it helped patients get better.
“He’s clearly shown in this case and in other ways allegiance to the corporate interest, but not to the patient interest,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, a nonpartisan think tank that has studied medical device safety.
Price aligned with pharmaceutical firms in one letter, criticizing a policy meant to steer doctors away from the costliest drugs. He also sided with physicians who balked at a move to cut their pay for epidural pain relief injections.
A spokesman for the Trump transition, Phillip Blando, said Price has “always brought a compassion and commitment” to caring for patients and his public service as a lawmaker.
“Any suggestion that his motivations for public service have been anything other than seeking to improve the lives of the American people is simply wrong,” Blando said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers pressed the Republican congressman on his investments and elicited few details on the congressman’s plans for replacing Obamacare during a four-hour Senate health committee hearing.
Pointed questions came from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, who grilled Price about his investment in an Australian drug company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. Price bought stock cheaper than what was offered on the open market, according to a Kaiser Health News report cited in the hearing.
Newly released documents show that in August, Price signed a letter to Medicare criticizing the use of “step therapy” in the drug program for seniors. The policy encourages doctors to first prescribe low-cost, established drugs and determine if they’re working before going to newer, more expensive