Former pharma exec nominated for top HHS post


Alex M. Azar II, a former pharmaceutical executive and member of the George W. Bush administration, has been selected by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Health & Human Services.

Mr. Azar served as president of Eli Lilly in the United States for 5 years from 2012 to 2017, after joining the company in 2007. Prior to that, he served President Bush at HHS from 2001 to 2007, serving first as general counsel and later as deputy secretary under Secretary Michael O. Leavitt.

Alex M. Azar II Wikimedia Commons/WWsgConnect/CC-SA 4.0

Alex M. Azar II

President Trump announced the appointment via Twitter on Nov. 13. “Happy to announce, I am nominating Alex Azar to be the next HHS Secretary. He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!”

“The challenges plaguing the American health care system are serious. For too long, hardworking, middle-class families have been forced to bear the brunt of Obamacare’s failures in the form of higher premiums and fewer choices,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement. “The leader of HHS will be at the tip of the spear, working to not only right the wrongs of this deeply flawed law but also ensure the long-term sustainability of both Medicare and Medicaid.”

The Senate Finance Committee must first approve the nomination before it is considered by the full chamber.

“We commend President Trump for nominating Alex Azar for secretary of Health & Human Services,” House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess, MD, (R-Texas) said in a joint statement. “He is a veteran of HHS, bringing with him a wealth of institutional knowledge that will be instrumental in delivering patient-centered health care and combating the opioid crisis. We look forward to working with Mr. Azar on these critical issues and many others in the future.”

The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, a coalition of physicians and other stakeholders across the health care industry, was more measured in its reaction to the news.

“We sincerely hope that Secretary-nominee Azar will follow through on the President’s commitment to achieve lower drug prices for all Americans,” according to a statement from CSRxP. “We look forward to working with him, once confirmed, to end anticompetitive practices that artificially inflate drug prices, restore a functioning prescription drug market, and rein in the exorbitant price hikes that harm patients, job creators, and taxpayers alike.”

The nomination process could be bumpy, as Mr. Azar has made statements in the news in the past that were in support the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. But keeping him from the post will be difficult, as he would only need a simple majority vote in the Senate to gain approval. With Republicans holding 52 seats, it would only require three dissenting GOP senators, assuming the Democrats vote against the appointment. If two crossed the aisle, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote.

Finance Committee Democrats boycotted the committee vote on Mr. Azar’s predecessor, Secretary Tom Price, MD, forcing committee Chairman Hatch to suspend rules in order to move the appointment to the full chamber for consideration.

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