HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, has announced he’ll resign after criticism for taking publicly-funded charter flights when it appeared less expensive commercial travel was available.
The resignation comes a day after Price promised to reimburse the federal government for some costs related to the private flights, with a POLITICO investigation have finding he had racked up $1 million in publicly-funded travel costs, including flying on military aircraft on overseas trips. However, he’ll had pledged only pay back the cost of his seat on domestic charter flights, amounting to $52,000.
Price said the travel was legal and approved by HHS and didn’t apologize for using charter flights. In one example, he took a $25,000 charter flight from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia when a commercial flight for the same route would’ve cost $725 per person.
“Despite this, I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars,” Price said.
The next day, President Donald Trump reiterated to reporters he was “not happy” with Price’s travel expenses and hinted he would have a decision on his job status later in the day. A statement from the White House Press Secretary said Price had offered his resignation to Trump sometime on Sept. 29, which Trump accepted.
Five Democrats in the House of Representatives had written to Price demanding he resign, saying his use of private flights represented a “gross misuse of public funds.” Other Democrats said paying back only for “his seat” on those flights was insufficient. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, who as ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, opposed Price’s nomination, tweeted that until Price paid back the full cost of the charter flights, he “is still ripping off taxpayers.”
Price’s tenure at HHS had seen numerous attempts at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act fail to pass Congress, as well as criticism that his department had sought to “sabotage” the law by limiting enforcement of individual and employer mandates and cutting most of the advertising budget for the ACA exchanges.
The National Physicians Alliance (NPA), which had opposed his nomination and bashed groups like the American Medical Association for supporting it, had begun circulating online petitions calling for Price to resign.
“He has advocated cuts to programs impacting the most vulnerable Americans, while simultaneously wasting taxpayer resources,” wrote NPA President Manan Trivedi, MD, MPP. “Now almost one year later, we believe that his actions in office warrant resignation.”
Price was able to achieve one of his healthcare policy goals during his tenure at HHS, rolling back Obama-era mandatory bundled payment programs which he had opposed as a member of Congress.
Taking over as acting secretary will be Don Wright, MD, MPH. He currently serves as HHS’ deputy assistant secretary and director of the office for disease prevention and health promotion, a position he has held since Jan. 2012. Wright earned a medical degree from the University of Texas, a master’s degree in public health from the Medical College of Wisconsin and completed his family medicine residency training at Baylor College of Medicine.