President Trump on Monday announced he will nominate Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical industry executive who also served as an HHS official under former President George W. Bush, as the nation's new HHS secretary.
If confirmed by the Senate, Azar would replace Eric Hargan, who has been serving as acting HHS secretary since Tom Price resigned in September amid federal investigations and growing criticism over his use of private planes for official business.
Trump in a tweet said Azar would work to "lower drug prices."
Azar served as general counsel and deputy secretary at HHS under the Bush administration. According to the Washington Post's "PowerPost," Azar while at HHS worked on issues including:
- The 2001 anthrax attacks;
- Stem cell policy;
- The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and
- The launch of Medicare Part D.
Azar joined Eli Lilly and Company in 2007 as the company's SVP of corporate affairs and communications. In 2012, he began overseeing the company's U.S. operations, which he did until he left the company in January of this year.
During his tenure at Eli Lilly, Azar focused on counterfeit treatments, health information technology, and federal and international government affairs and public policy. After resigning from Eli Lily, Azar founded a health care consulting firm called Seraphim Strategies.
He has been critical of the Affordable Care Act, the Washington Post reports. Earlier this year, he said that "one of the nice things in [the law] is it does give tremendous amount of authority to the secretary of HHS." According to the Post, Azar also supports block-granting Medicaid and has opposed Medicaid expansion.
Mike Leavitt, who served as HHS secretary under the Bush administration, said of Azar, "He understands the process and he knows the levers and how you make it work and where the potential roadblocks are." He added, "I think he would be of particular value given the fact that ... so far a repeal bill has not occurred and they're going to need to make their imprint on existing laws through replacing the ideology underpinning it."
Andy Slavitt, who led CMS under former President Barack Obama, also praised Azar's background, saying, "He is familiar with the higher quality of the HHS staff, has real world experience enough to be pragmatic, and will hopefully avoid repeating the mistakes of his predecessors in over-politicizing Americans' access to health care." Slavitt said his confirmation hearing "should focus hard on how he will take steps to improve access to comprehensive care needed by so many Americans; build bridges across the aisle; create inclusiveness and tolerance in HHS' policies; improve women's health; and focus more resources for Americans living with disabilities and in vulnerable circumstances" (Ramsey, Business Insider, 11/13; Roubein, The Hill, 11/13; Eilperin/Goldstein, "PowerPost," Washington Post, 10/18; Slavitt statement, 11/13; Mangan, CNBC, 11/13; Eilperin/Goldstein, Washington Post, 11/13).
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