Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned on Friday night following numerous revelations that he had taken pricey private jet travel at the taxpayer’s expense to conduct official business.
“Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted,” a statement from Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read. “The President intends to designate Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as Acting Secretary, effective at 11:59 p.m. on September 29, 2017. Mr. Wright currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.”
Price’s resignation follows a flurry of negative and damaging headlines over that use of private and military jets. On Thursday, Price cut a check for the costs he incurred. But he had chosen only to pay for the price of his seats on the plane (just under $52,000) and not the total cost of the trips themselves (which exceeded $1 million). By the end of the week, Trump had clearly soured on his HHS Secretary.
"I'm not happy, that I can tell you,” Trump told reporters on Friday afternoon.
In his resignation letter, Price expressed his regret “that the recent events have created a distraction.” But, he added, “You may rest assured that I will continue to support your critical priorities going ahead because failure is not an option for the American people.”
Inside the administration, the sense had grown that Price’s position had become untenable. He was “right it’s a distraction, but also Trump legit does not like conspicuous government waste,” a senior administration official told The Daily Beast, citing the president’s attempts to reduce the upkeep costs of Air Force One.
The president’s anger at Price wasn’t exclusively due to the air-travel scandal. According to Trump administration sources, speaking to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely, Trump had been increasingly annoyed or angry with Price for his inability to shepherd the process of repealing and replacing Obamacare. Price had championed repeal legislation when he served in the House of Representatives. But he was notably distant from the debate while at HHS—an absence that reportedly irritated the president.
In July, Trump joked on-stage at the annual Boy Scout Jamboree right in front of Price that if he couldn’t help get the votes to gut the Affordable Care Act he would be “fired!”
While he may not have helped legislatively repeal Obamacare, Price did damage the law administratively. Under his direction, HHS scaled back on its promotion of enrollment, made public relations efforts to demonize the law, and oversaw major reductions in functions designed to educate consumers about insurance markets.
But that wasn’t enough for Trump, who seethed at the inability to get legislation through Congress. Over the past several days, the president vented to aides and longtime confidants about Price, seeking advice on what to do with his HHS secretary. One of those sources close to Trump told The Daily Beast that they advised the president not to angrily tweet at or about Price—as the president had done to other senior administration officials he was mad at such as Attorney General Jeff Session. The president took the advice though he couldn’t help but make the occassionally suggestive public remark.
It is a dramatic downfall for Price, who gave up his safe seat in the House in order to serve in the administration.
But from the get-go, the former cabinet secretary was beset by ethical quandaries.
Price was dogged by reports that he had engaged in insider trading while in Congress. Kaiser Health News reported earlier this year that an Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics had sold nearly $1 million in discounted shares to two congressman, one of whom was Price. The sale had occurred prior to the firm’s attempts to get FDA approval for a new drug. Price, at the time, was on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Congressional Health Care Caucus.
It was also discovered that Price had introduced legislation that benefited a health company with whom he had recently invested. That bill, the Patient Access to Durable Medical Equipment Act, proposed reversing cuts in Medicare reimbursements to makers of home medical beds and various other equipment. The maker of that equipment, McKesson, had informed stockholders in an annual report that year that its profits were threatened by the cuts in Medicare payments. Price had purchased $15,000 of shares in McKesson prior to introducing his bill.
An analysis from The Wall Street Journal found that, in all, Price had traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies while he was in a position to advocate for and sponsor legislation that could affect the stock of those companies.
This post has been updated with additional reporting.