Former Representative Tom Price (R–GA), a bone surgeon who until today represented the affluent suburbs north of Atlanta in the U.S. House of Representatives, was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by the U.S. Senate early today.
The Senate confirmed Price, 62, on a vote of 52–47, with no Democrat or Independent voting in favor.
Price now takes the helm of a $1 trillion government department that includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most visibly, he will be charged with overseeing the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that Republicans have promised. Price has been one of the most vocal congressional advocates of dismantling the 2010 law.
Price brings antiabortion views to the job, and a record of opposing needle exchange programs, although his wife Betty Price, a physician and a state representative in Georgia, has supported such programs and Price’s former congressional district is plagued by heroin and opioid addiction. Price also belongs to a relatively small, conservative medical association, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, that last August propounded the debunked claim that the measlse, mumps, and rubella vaccine causes autism. The group opposes mandatory vaccination as “equivalent to human experimentation,” The Washington Post reported yesterday. During his confirmation hearings, Price said he would support the current recommended schedule of childhood vaccinations, but was not asked his position on mandatory vaccinations.
Price has at the same time voiced support for medical research, speaking approvingly last year to the Emory Report of a new, $2 billion “bump” in NIH’s $32 billion budget. He told the same audience at Emory University in Atlanta that he approves of streamlining FDA’s approval processes for some drugs and medical devices.
Price came under fire from Democrats during his Senate confirmation hearings, on the heels of a Wall Street Journal article that reported that since 2012, while a member of the House, he traded more than $300,000 in health care stocks while at the same time advancing legislation that could have affected the performance of those stocks. Last month, Price promised in a letter to HHS officials to divest his health care holdings should he be confirmed as secretary.