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Rep. Tom Price in 2014
via Wikimedia Commons

Trump’s health secretary nominee sought special treatment for industry donors

By Marisa Taylor and Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News

Rep. Tom Price, the physician and Georgia Republican tapped for the nation’s leading health care job, has long criticized federal spending as excessive. Yet during his years in Congress, he’s worked hard to keep federal dollars flowing to his most generous campaign donors.

Price has been a go-to congressman, a review of his records show, for medical special interests hotly sparring with regulators or facing budget cuts. Over the past decade, he has waded into issues related to specific drugs and medical devices, making 38 inquiries with the federal Food and Drug Administration, according to federal records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. He questioned the FDA on his constituents’ behalf about matters as minute as a device for fertility treatment and an ingredient in pain creams.

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In other cases, he has gone to bat for companies whose executives and employees have generously contributed to his campaigns and political action committees.

“It looks like he’s somebody who could throw the store open to a lot of niche special interests,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University who specializes in Congress. “These are things that fly under the radar. If you take a meat ax to Medicare, for example, everybody would know about it. But this kind of stuff is done in the dark of night.”

Just a few weeks before Trump tapped Price to lead the Department of Health & Human Services in November, the congressman took the stage at an Atlanta conference for vendors who sell canes, hospital beds and power wheelchairs. Price was the star of the show — a conference with 5,000 attendees. He spoke to the gathered crowd about the Medicare cuts plaguing the industry and pledged to fight them. The leaders of the Medtrade conference honored Price with an award for his stalwart advocacy and convened a $100-per-person fundraiser in his honor.

Price, 62, a tea party Republican and orthopedic surgeon from the northern Atlanta suburbs, was elected to Congress in 2004 after four terms in the Georgia state Legislature. A third-generation physician, he has said he entered politics on a quest to limit government meddling in health care. He has won significant campaign support over the years from drug firms and physician groups.

Records obtained through a public records request show that Price has taken an interest in his constituents’ struggles with the FDA. He hand-signed a letter of concern over the availability of heart valves used in pediatric surgeries in 2005. Four years later, he urged review of a local company’s sperm-analysis device. He dubbed the company a “pillar of the community” and said it should be exempted from a clinical trial that would be “impossible to pass.” Earlier this year, his staffer pressed the FDA on behalf of a constituent trying to get capsaicin palmitate, a hot-pepper ingredient similar to one available over the counter — on a list of approved products for specialized pain creams.
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