Trump HHS pick backed Zimmer Biomet—then pushed a bill to benefit the company

Days after purchasing Zimmer Biomet stock, Rep. Tom Price introduced a bill that would delay new CMS regulations that would change how manufacturers and healthcare providers are reimbursed for hip and knee implants. Image: Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

Georgia Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to run Health and Human Services, bought shares in Zimmer Biomet shortly before introducing a bill that would have spared the devicemaker from a financial hit brought about by new CMS regulations.

Price purchased between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of Zimmer Biomet shares last March, CNN reported Sunday. Days later, he introduced the HIP Act, which sought to delay and suspend Medicare’s Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model. The new regs seek to change the way Medicare reimburses providers and manufacturers for hip and knee implants.

After Price floated the bill, Zimmer Biomet’s political action committee donated to his reelection campaign, CNN reported. The company, which makes hip and knee implants, would have been among the hardest hit if the new regs are fully implemented.

"It clearly has the appearance of using your influence as a congressman to your financial benefit," said Larry Noble, general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, as quoted by CNN. "If he believed in the bill, he should not have purchased the stock."

"Any effort to connect the introduction of Dr. Price's legislation, co-sponsored with Democrats, to a campaign contribution is demonstrably false,” said Phil Blando, a transition spokesman, in response to CNN’s report. “Dr. Price is fully complying with the recommendations put forth by the Office of Government Ethics."

The news comes ahead of Price’s first Senate confirmation hearing to take the helm at HHS. If confirmed, he will lead the charge on gutting the Affordable Care Act. But his reach won’t stop there—the Secretary of Health and Human Services oversees a number of agencies and programs, not least the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. As health chief, Price would hold considerable sway over matters, ranging from how Medicaid and Medicare are run to how applications for novel devices and drugs are reviewed.

And Zimmer Biomet isn’t the Georgia lawmaker and former orthopedic surgeon’s only conflict. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the cabinet nominee traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies while sponsoring and co-sponsoring legislation that could affect these companies. In addition to Zimmer Biomet, his stock trades included Amgen, Pfizer and Eli Lilly, the WSJ said.

Price has announced his intention to divest his stock holdings in more than 40 companies within 90 days of Senate confirmation. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, has called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to look into whether Price has violated the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. Signed into law in 2012, the bill seeks to combat insider trading by members of Congress and other government workers.