Price Resigns as HHS Secretary Over Travel Controversy

September 29, 2017

Engulfed by the controversy over his expensive government trips aboard charter and military aircraft, Tom Price, MD, today resigned from his post as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Dr Price, an orthopedic surgeon and former Republican member of the House of Representatives from Georgia, served less than 8 months as head of HHS. The Senate narrowly confirmed his nomination by President Donald Trump on February 10.

Tom Price, MD. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

His position appeared shaky when Politico reported last week that he had taken more than two dozen private chartered flights in lieu of commercial flights on HHS business since May, costing taxpayers some $400,000. The revelation angered Trump, who publicly suggested that Dr Price's job wasn't safe. Dr Price said that although he hadn't broken the law, he would stop using chartered flights for frugality's sake and reimburse the government nearly $52,000. This figure covered the cost of his seats on past flights, but not the entire cost of booking the aircraft.

Then Politico broke the story this week that military aircraft had taken Dr Price to Africa, Asia, and Europe, adding another $500,000 in government-paid travel expenses to the tab.

Dr Price assumed the post of HHS secretary in almost as much controversy as he left it, beginning as soon as Trump nominated him late last year. His staunch opposition to the Affordable Care Act and voting record on issues such as abortion and LGBT rights alienated many physicians, although he did receive a guarded endorsement from the American Medical Association.

Dr Price's extensive investments in healthcare companies opened him up to accusations of insider trading because those companies could be helped or hurt by legislation he supported. Dr Price countered that these investments were ethical, but promised to sell the stock when he became HHS secretary.

Shortly after Dr Price's resignation, the White House announced that Trump is designating Don Wright, MD, MPH, as the acting secretary of HHS. Dr Wright had been the deputy assistant secretary for health at HHS as well as the director of the department's Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. A family physician also boarded in preventive medicine, Dr Wright served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007 to 2009 as HHS Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health.

Follow Robert Lowes on Twitter @LowesRobert

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