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Trump's HHS pick faces insider trading allegations as confirmation hearing looms

Rep. Tom Price addresses the second annual Conservative Policy Summit at the Heritage Foundation Jan. 12, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Allegations of insider trading against Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, surfaced Sunday, just days before his Senate confirmation hearings that are set to begin Wednesday.

Price purchased $2,697.74  in stock in the medical device company Zimmer Biomet in March 2016, according to a statement from the Trump transition team. Less than a week later he introduced a bill to delay the joint replacement device tax that is included as part of Obamacare, CNN reported. The Indiana-based company in which Price invested is one among only a handful of businesses that almost certainly would been negatively impacted by the tax, which Price's bill, known as the HIP Act, sought to delay until 2018.

According to CNN, Price wrote a letter to Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services acting administrator Andy Slavitt in September 2015 requesting that the tax be delayed. Two days later, Zimmer Biomet's PAC donated $1,000 to Price's re-election campaign. OpenSecrets data show that Price received a total of $2,000 from Zimmer Biomet's political arm in the 2016 election cycle.

But after CMS did not act upon Price's request, the Georgia congressman in March 2016 introduced a bill that sought to do the same thing. Three months later, Zimmer Biomet's PAC donated another $1,000 to Price's re-election effort.

This isn't the first time questions have been raised over Price's stock-trading practices.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in December, the Georgia congressman has traded more than $300,000 in biomedical, pharmaceutical and health insurance stocks since 2012, all while simultaneously serving on the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, publicly and privately advocating for legislation that would benefit the very companies in which he invested.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who wrote the 2012 STOCK Act, which aimed to prevent insider trading practices by members of Congress, sent a letter Jan. 10 to the Securities and Exchange Commission, asking the agency to look into the matter, according to the Journal.

“The fact that these trades were made and in many cases timed to achieve significant earnings or avoid losses would lead a reasonable person to question whether the transactions were triggered by insider knowledge," Slaughter's letter stated.

Despite these multiple allegations, however, the Trump transition team is insisting Price did nothing wrong.

"Any effort to connect the introduction of bipartisan legislation by Dr. Price to any campaign contribution is demonstrably false," Phil Blando, a transition spokesman said. "The only pattern we see emerging is that Senate Democrats and their liberal-media allies cannot abide the notion that Dr. Tom Price is uniquely qualified to lead HHS and will stop at nothing to smear his reputation.”

The Trump transition team further said that the March 2016 Zimmer Biomet stock purchase was facilitated by a third-party broker and that Price did not learn of the transaction until April 2016 when his financial adviser gave the congressman a list of financial transactions for public disclosure. The same source also pointed out the stock purchase was part of Price's larger portfolio, which includes both health care-related and non-health care-related shares.

Democratic National Committee senior adviser Zac Petkanas pounced on the "bombshell" report, saying in a brief statement emailed out by the DNC: "This is called corruption."

Price's congressional office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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