Trump's HHS pick will sell off stock to avoid conflicts

WASHINGTON (AP) - President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to be the nation's top health official will sell off stock holdings to avoid potential conflicts of interest, according to government documents released Thursday.

Rep. Tom Price's ethics agreement and financial disclosure were posted online by the Office of Government Ethics. The Georgia Republican has been nominated to head the Department of Health and Human Services, where he's expected to play a leading role in the effort to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's health care law.

If confirmed by the Senate, Price said he would divest himself of stock in more than 40 companies. He'll also resign a position with the American Medical Association, as well as a managing role in a business partnership.

Price and his wife listed assets of between $8 million and $22 million on the disclosure, though the amount could be higher because one asset- undeveloped land in Georgia - was valued simply as more than $1 million.

Democrats said Price's ethics agreement is a welcome step, but does not clear up underlying questions about his investments, including whether he had access to insider information.

Senior Democratic lawmakers and a consumer advocacy group have raised questions about Price's stock trades in health care companies. An orthopedic surgeon-turned-legislator, Price has been an active investor, buying and selling stock in businesses across the economy.

Among the major health care companies whose stocks Price will dispose of are drugmakers Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb. He'll also sell holdings in Aetna, the insurance company, and CVS, the pharmacy chain.

Additionally, Price pledged to divest his stake in a little-known Australian drug company, an investment that has raised questions about whether the congressman engaged in insider trading. That company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, is trying to find a treatment for a severe form of multiple sclerosis.

The consumer group Public Citizen has requested a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of Price's purchase this past summer of $50,000 to $100,000 in the company's stock. Price bought shares two days after a large purchase by a fellow GOP congressman who is a director of the Australian company and one of its major investors. At the time, the company's stock was trading for about 30 cents a share; it's now closer to 90 cents.

A federal law prohibits lawmakers from engaging in insider trading. The Public Citizen complaint to the SEC said there's no evidence of that, but the circumstances of Price's stock purchases should be examined.

The Trump transition team says Price has followed federal laws and congressional rules, and says Democratic lawmakers also trade stocks. "Given this (ethics) agreement, we expect the Senate to move expeditiously with consideration of Dr. Price's nomination," said spokesman Phillip Blando.

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AP Writer Chad Day contributed to this report.

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