Tom Price did not deserve Senate confirmation to head the Department of Health and Human Services. His actions as a U.S. House member raised too many troubling ethical questions. While serving on a health subcommittee, he traded in the shares of companies he helped to oversee. He wasn’t forthcoming about his activities. His behavior indicated a sense of entitlement, confusing public service with private gain.
Price won confirmation, anyway. On Friday, he lost his job, resigning under pressure after reports about his excessive travel on charter flights and military jets, tallying roughly $900,000 in taxpayer funds — during just eight months in office. That notion of feeling entitled surfaced again.
His practice departed dramatically from his predecessors, who rarely chartered private flights, traveling the old-fashioned way, by commercial airline. There’s also car or train. As news reports mounted, Price made a grudging bid to pay back the public, covering the cost of his seat, $52,000.
Most galling is the context in which Price traveled in such comfort and convenience. As secretary, he pushed for substantial reductions in Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that serves, among others, poor children and the indigent elderly in nursing homes. He advocated for a 20 percent cut in the overall budget for health and human services.
Consider his efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, or the law of the land, especially the insurance exchanges where individuals go to purchase coverage. Price reduced the enrollment period for the exchanges from 90 days to 45 days. He slashed the budget for outreach and advertising 90 percent. He cut by 40 percent funding for navigators, nonprofit organizations that guide people through the process.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks recently announced that the reductions left it little choice but to pull out of the navigator program.
Price also made plans to shut down the federal exchange for maintenance 12 hours every Sunday of the enrollment period, erecting another obstacle to participation for many people who otherwise do not have access to affordable and adequate health coverage.
President Trump campaigned pledging to “drain the swamp.” Price is emblematic of how Washington has lost its way, the pursuit of self-enrichment obscuring the public interest. Unfortunately, he has company in the administration, three other leading officials who have evinced a sense of entitlement through their travels, including Scott Pruitt, the EPA head with an 18-member security detail.
Then, there is the president. He has ignored established ethical practices. He remains tied to his businesses, in position to benefit financially from his presidency. In other words, it isn’t enough that the White House intends to overhaul the process for approving travel by Cabinet members.
— AKRON BEACON JOURNAL