Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has resigned his post just a week into a growing scandal over his frequent use of chartered and military flights that cost American taxpayers more than $1 million.
The White House announced the news in a statement Friday afternoon:
Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted. The President intends to designate Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as Acting Secretary, effective at 11:59 p.m. on September 29, 2017. Mr. Wright currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Politico first reported that Price had frequently chartered private jets to travel around the country, breaking a long-standing precedent from his predecessors who often flew commercial. The outlet identified dozens of private flights, costing more than $400,000, since May. Just days later, Politico also reported that Price had flown to Africa, Europe and Asia this spring on military aircraft at a cost of more than $500,000.
Price’s wife, Betty, traveled with him on the military plane while other people in his delegation flew commercial, according to the latest report. A HHS spokeswoman said Price had reimbursed the agency for his wife’s travel.
Price tried to quell the firestorm over his travels at the end of September, saying he would stop flying private pending a formal review of his travel by the HHS inspector general.
He also pledged to reimburse the government for the cost of his seat on all of the chartered flights. He said he would write a check for nearly $52,000, noting taxpayers “won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes.” However, those claims came under fire after they seemed to imply that Price wouldn’t reimburse taxpayers for the total costs of the flights, which included charges for fuel, taxes and additional fees.
Price’s tenure in the Trump administration began much as it ended: mired in controversy.
The former congressman’s personal financial activity came under scrutiny during his January confirmation process, amid reports that he had regularly traded health industry stocks while sitting on the House Ways and Means Committee, in potential violation of a 2012 law banning insider trading in Congress. Price was specifically accused of lying to senators in sworn testimony about buying discounted stock in an Australian biotech company in 2016, after receiving a tip from a colleague who sat on the company’s board. Price then backed legislation that could have sped up the approval process for the company’s medical device technology.
As health and human service secretary, Price also led Trump’s unsuccessful campaign to repeal Obamacare. Trump told a crowd of Boy Scouts over the summer that Price would be “fired” if he couldn’t wrangle the votes in the Senate to pass a repeal measure. Days later, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) cast the decisive “no” vote on the bill.
Price has also been criticized for his approach on the opioid epidemic. In May, he spoke out against medication-assisted treatment for addiction, equating it to “substituting one opioid for another” and touting faith-based, abstinence-only methods instead. Scientific studies have shown medication to be the most effective form of treatment for people suffering from opioid use disorder.
Price’s departure comes as several other members of the Trump administration are under fire for their proclivity for using private jets. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have all used such aircraft at taxpayer’s expense.
Nick Wing and Mollie Reilly contributed reporting.