Tom Price apparently doesn’t care about earning frequent flyer miles: the Health and Human Services secretary took private charter planes on official business five separate times last week, according to Politico.
The flights included a trip from Washington to Philadelphia (a distance of roughly 140 miles), and took place between September 13 and 15. They were not paid for by the health groups that hosted Price, which suggests they were paid for by taxpayer dollars. Using private airfare is unusual for domestic trips for officials like Price, and Politico cites current and former staffers who claim that Price has been traveling this way for “months.”
This is a sharp change in outlook on private jet travel from Price’s years as a congressman from Georgia when he chided federal government officials for using private jets.
The news of Price’s private plane rides comes about a week after it was revealed that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought to use a government plane for his European honeymoon, and amidst a frantic Congressional battle over a health care bill that, if passed, would gut hundreds of billions of dollars from programs like Medicaid.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told VICE News Price’s private air travel is justified. Here’s a statement from Charmaine Yoest, assistant secretary for public affairs:
Within an incredibly demanding schedule full of 13+ hour days, every effort is being made to maximize Secretary Price’s ability to travel outside Washington to meet with the American people and carry out HHS’s missions. Secretary Price is currently managing public health and human services recovery and preparation efforts for three major hurricanes.
Price is a right-wing conservative from Georgia who worked first as an orthopedic surgeon, and then spent 12 years in the House of Representatives, before he was tapped by Donald Trump for the HHS job. His confirmation process was somewhat rocky after it emerged that Price was one of 20 investors who in 2016 was offered, and purchased, specially discounted shares of an Australian biotech company.
Coming into the job, Price claimed that he would cut down on wasteful spending across federal government health services.
“For us to say,’OK, let’s just throw more money at that system. Let’s see if more money helps that out’ is the wrong way,” Price told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta in April.