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Tom Price’s Real Crime

Anyone naïve enough to believe that Tom Price’s ouster from HHS was actually about his use of chartered jets may wish to consider this: The same transgression was committed on a much larger scale by numerous Obama administration officials, yet neither the “news” media nor the Democrats ever exhibited any outrage over far worse abuses by repeat offenders like Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. This doesn’t excuse Price’s poor judgment, of course, but it is a reminder that he was hounded out of office for one reason and one reason only — he was a fierce and powerful opponent of Obamacare.

Until nominated by President Trump to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Price was widely respected in and out of Congress as a health policy expert whose experience as a practicing physician augmented his credibility. After his nomination, however, the Democrats and the media suddenly discovered that he was a wild-eyed extremist who would use his HHS position to harm women, seniors, the poor, and presumably puppies as well. They also ginned up a transparently phony conflict of interest charge involving a minuscule investment. Here is CNN’s breathless reporting on that transgression:

Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN. Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

My goodness. $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares, eh? This is reminiscent of Doctor Evil’s famous demand for “one million dollars” in exchange for a stolen missile. If Price is a crook, he isn’t very good at it. Perhaps he should take some lessons from a real expert in corruption like Democrat Senator Robert Menendez. Naturally, CNN passed lightly over the fact that the stock was part of a routine portfolio buy carried out by a broker with no specific purchase instructions from Price. CNN also gave short shrift to a finding by the Office of Government Ethics that Dr. Price’s financial dealings had easily passed the white glove test.

The search for dirt on Price by the Democrats and the media continued apace, of course, and this effort to find damning information only increased after he was confirmed by the Senate and promptly initiated an extensive review of the more than 1,400 intrusive health care regulations promulgated by his predecessors. Obamacare, you will recall, bestowed unprecedented “discretion” on the HHS Secretary. Kathleen Sebelius and Sylvia Burwell took full advantage of that latitude. The most notorious manifestation of their combined zeal for regulatory fiats was, of course, the egregious contraception mandate.

It is no coincidence that the frantic search for some scandal to pin on Price reached Ahab-like intensity when he proposed changing that bureaucratic edict. Last May the Department of Health and Human Services, in concert with the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury; Employee Benefits Security Administration, Department of Labor; and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, issued an interim final rule whose purpose was to remove the federal boot from the necks of the Little Sisters of the Poor and other organizations adversely affected by the mandate. Its opening summary reads thus:

The United States has a long history of protecting individuals and organizations with objections based on religious beliefs or moral convictions from requirements imposed in the regulation of healthcare. These interim final rules expand exemptions for religious beliefs and moral convictions for certain entities or individuals whose health plans may otherwise be subject to a mandate of contraceptive coverage through guidance issued pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

This immediately caused widespread consternation among the Democrats and their media allies because, like the original mandate, this change in policy does not require the approval of Congress. Democrat and media claims to the contrary, the contraception mandate is not explicitly required by the “Affordable Care Act.” It is instead what Clyde Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has dubbed “regulatory dark matter,” an example of the administrative lawmaking that has long since eclipsed the number and importance of legitimate laws passed by Congress and signed by the President.

This particular edict is so important to the Democrats and their abortion industry financiers that Price’s effort to alter it doomed him. He had to be stopped, and at last Price committed a fatal blunder. Politico was responsible for the “investigative reporting” that publicized his ill-considered use of private and military aircraft for a variety of trips, many of which could have been made via commercial airlines. After that story metastasized throughout the media, Price’s ouster from HHS became inevitable. And the Democrats quickly made it clear that their goal had been accomplished. Nancy Pelosi’s statement was typical:

Secretary Price should never have been in this role in the first place. The American people deserve a Secretary of Health and Human Services who believes in health care for all Americans. It’s time for this Administration to work with Democrats to improve and update the Affordable Care Act. This pivot should start with the nomination of a new Secretary who will stop this Administration’s sabotage of hard-working Americans’ health care.

Translation: “Price’s real crime was his opposition to Obamacare and we want him replaced with a deep state bureaucrat.” One hopes that President Trump isn’t that stupid. The New York Post reports that the frontrunner for the now vacant HHS position is Seema Verma, the current CMS administrator. Trump could do worse, but she implemented Indiana’s Medicaid expansion while Mike Pence was governor, which suggests that she isn’t a particularly adamant Obamacare opponent. If we end up with an HHS secretary who is “soft on Obamacare” the law’s regulatory tentacles will continue to strangle U.S. health care.

Regardless of who ends up replacing him, the ouster of Tom Price from HHS is a tragedy for U.S. health care and the public. Unlike Kathleen Sebelius, Sylvia Burwell, or any recent HHS secretary, he had actual experience treating real patients. He knows the health care system, and why Obamacare is both dysfunctional and dangerous. He knows the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act neither protects patients nor makes care affordable. That is why the Democrats and the media did him in. The departure of Tom Price from HHS will definitely affect your life for the worse whether you realize it or not.

David Catron
David Catron
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David Catron is a health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catronicus.
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