This is an “I told you so” that ethicists have seen many times. When you find ethical integrity problems once with an individual – especially a physician — it is indicative of a larger pattern. To that end, Dr. Price’s ethical misconduct surrounding his extravagant travel tastes should come as no surprise to anyone — considering that he already was found to be self-dealing when he was a member of congress. He held stock in drug companies that he personally helped as a legislator. (See: http://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trumps-pick-for-health-secretary-traded-medical-stocks-while-in-house-1482451061.) Typically, the laws of politics should have prevented his confirmation, but that didn’t happen. He was confirmed as Secretary of HHS by a Republican congress despite his glaring conflicts of interest, questions raised by the Office of Government Ethics (see: http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/18/politics/tom-price-conflicts-interest-oge-ethics-office/index.html), and concerns about his ethical integrity raised during his hearing (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/10/us/politics/tom-price-health-and-human-services.html). But he was not even unique. Just about everyone in this Administration’s cabinet has something to hide, and is either openly self-dealing or suspected of such. All political ethical norms have been shattered in this Administration, leaving those of us in the ethics business so morally upended, “moral distress” doesn’t seem like an apt definition anymore.
The only thing about Dr. Price’s resignation as Secretary of HHS that is unique is that the laws of political gravity seemed to work in this situation. Secretary Price, who, as it turns out, was not a particularly effective cabinet member, and did not mesh well with the President, was seen as disposable. He made the President look bad, which seems to be the reason he was asked to resign (See: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/09/tom-price-resigned/541608/). Had the President liked him, and Dr. Price had been successful in helping to gut our healthcare system by leaving millions of Americans at the bottom of the sea, his tenure would have been considered a success, and his travel misdeeds would have surely been excused. I was genuinely concerned that Dr. Price would prove competent in his role, and do the damage he was hired to do (see: http://endocrineethicsblog.org/putting-a-price-on-healthcare/). Dr. Price’s own self-interest and hedonistic tendencies were his Achilles heel. Since he’s an orthopedic surgeon, maybe he can see an orthopedic colleague for that problem.
We will need to do a Price Comparison on his successor, and see if he or she can will end healthcare for millions, or actually heal it, as the Washington Post is hoping for (see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-opportunity-in-tom-prices-resignation/2017/09/30/f4c722f8-a5ee-11e7-b14f-f41773cd5a14_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-c%3Ahomepage%2Fstory). I predict this Price Fix is only temporary.