Trump Taps Former Pharma Exec Azar to Head HHS
Former pharmaceutical industry executive Alex Azar (pictured) is President Donald Trump’s choice to lead HHS, replacing Dr. Tom Price who resigned in September after facing controversy over his extensive use of government and charter air travel.
“He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!” Trump proclaimed in a Twitter post.
Azar is the former head of pharma giant Eli Lilly’s U.S. division. He also served as HHS general counsel and deputy secretary during the George W. Bush administration, and has received praise for his competence and knowledge about health policy. He is a strong critic of the Affordable Care Act. And he previously has opposed ideas for reducing prescription drug prices such as purchasing drugs from other countries where prices are lower.
Azar went to work for Eli Lilly & Co. in 2007 as senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications, and later became chief of Lilly’s U.S. operations, a position he held until this past January. He also served on the board of BIO, which represents biotechnology companies.
In his confirmation hearings, Senate Democrats are expected to question Azar’s close ties to the drug industry and whether he has the independence to take strong steps to curb drug prices, an issue on which Trump has urged action.
If he is confirmed, Azar would take charge of an agency that is still roiled by investigations into Price’s air travel, and reportedly divided into different political camps. He will have to decide whether to continue the Obama administration’s push for much broader use of value-based payment programs in Medicare, and how much freedom to give states seeking waivers to restructure their Medicaid programs.
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