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Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for the Secretary of Health and Human Services, was grilled by Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee over investments made into healthcare companies.
Price’s answers, however, may have raised even more questions.
Price, along with the Trump transition team, insisted that trades made in Price’s name in a medical device company Zimmer Biomet were done by a investment broker at Morgan Stanley without his knowledge. That investment was made shortly before Price introduced a bill that analysts say would have significantly benefitted Zimmer’s business.
He doesn’t decide which stocks to buy
Price insisted he only became aware of the Zimmer Biomet purchase after he introduced a bill delaying a regulation that would have hurt the company. He also said during the hearing, while explaining the Zimmer investment, that all trades are done by his broker without his knowledge.
On Tuesday, a fact sheet provided by the Trump transition team on the Zimmer Biomet trade – which was executed in March 2016 and Price said he became aware of in April 2016 – said that all investment decisions for Price were made by the broker, not Price.
“Pursuant to the arrangement with Morgan Stanley, the ﬁnancial advisor, and not Dr. Price, has the discretion to decide which securities to buy and sell in his account,” reads the fact sheet.
Price also said in the hearing that he has “no idea what stocks I held in the 1990’s, in the 2000’s, or even now.”
Except when he does
However, during a line of questioning from Sen. Patty Murray, Price also said that trades he made in a separate Australian biotech firm were made because he believed in the company and directed his broker to execute the trades.
Price invested in a small Australian biotech firm named Innate Immunotherapeutics. The firm has been attempting to get Food and Drug Administration approval for a drug that helps to treat a form of multiple sclerosis and has targeted influential US investors to ensure that approval, according to Kaiser Health News.
According to record obtained by Kaiser, Price made an initial investment in Innate in January 2015, but made his largest purchase in the biotech firm in August of 2016.
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When Price was asked about his investment in Innate, the HHS nominee said he became aware of the company through another member of Congress, Rep. Chris Collins. Following an investigation into the firm’s business prospects, Price said he decided to direct his broker to invest in the stock.
“[Collins] talked about the company and the work they were doing in trying to solve the challenge of progressive secondary multiple sclerosis,” said Rep. Price during the hearing. “I studied the company for a period of time and felt it had significant merit and purchased the initial shares on the stock exchange.”
Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic ranking member on the committee, clarified that Price had told his broker to buy the Innate stock.
“You made the decision to purchase that stock, not a broker. Yes or no?” Sen. Murray asked Price at the hearing.
“That was a decision that I made, yes,” Price said.
In a clarification later in the hearing Price repeated that he “directed the broker to purchase the stock.”
The report by Kaiser also noted that since Price invested in the stock through a private placement that included Rep. Collins, and a few other US-based lobbyists, he bought the stock at a lower price than on the open market.
So, according to Price, he doesn’t decide which stocks to pick, but he does pick stocks. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer jumped on this confusion in a press conference just after the hearing saying that Price’s statements on the two stock purchases were a “direct contradiction.”
While both the Trump transition team and Price’s office have said that he was following ethics guidelines for stock ownership, the exact interaction between Price and his broker and the timeline in which the investments happened remains cloudy.