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Pres Trump Taps Former Pharma Exec Alex Azar as Next HHS Secretary

Former Eli Lilly executive and HHS Deputy Secretary, Alex Azar received a nomination from President Trump to succeed Tom Price as HHS Secretary.

President Trump nominates Alex Azar as next HHS Secretary

Source: Thinkstock

By Jacqueline Belliveau

- President Trump recently nominated Alex M. Azar II as the next HHS Secretary, according to multiple news sources. Azar was the former president of Eli Lilly’s American division and a health official in the George W. Bush Administration.

If confirmed by the Senate, Azar would succeed Tom Price as head of the federal department. Price resigned in September after accusations that he spent at least $400,000 of taxpayers money on chartered flights, the New York Times reported. Price had been serving as HHS Secretary since February.

Azar is a lawyer who worked as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. His law career also included serving as an Associate Independent Counsel for Kenneth W. Starr where he worked on the President Clinton Whitewater controversy.

More recently, Azar stepped down in January from his position as president at Eli Lilly, one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies. He pursued healthcare consulting after he left as head of US operations at Eli Lilly.

Prior to his tenure at the pharmaceutical company, Azar served as HHS General Counsel and Deputy Secretary during the George W. Bush Administration. He worked as a health official under the administration for six years.

READ MORE: What a Trump Presidency Means for Value-Based Care and the ACA

President Trump anticipates his nomination for HHS Secretary to be “a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices,” according to a Tweet on Monday.

Lowering prescription drug rates is a top priority for the Trump Administration. The President stated in October at a Rose Garden press conference that he intends to bring prescription drug costs “way down.” He also stated in a Cabinet meeting earlier that day that pharmaceutical companies were “getting away with murder,” reported Politico.

President Trump pointed out that other countries determine prescription drug rates, resulting in costs about half of what the United States pays for the same medications. He explained that he wants to reduce drug prices to what other countries are paying, “or at least close” to those amounts.

Stakeholders criticized President Trump’s nomination for HHS Sectary because of his links the pharmaceutical industry, the New York Times reported. In response to the nomination, Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) said “instead of draining the swamp, he has set the fox to guard the henhouse.”

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) stated, “I am also interested in how, given Mr. Azar’s professional background, he believes he can fairly execute any significant effort to lower drug prices for patients.”

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Although former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt pointed out that Azar’s experience with the pharmaceutical industry would be an advantage.

“To solve the problems within the pharmaceutical industry, you have to understand the way the distribution system works,” he said. “Alex understands that as well as any person in the country.”

Another former HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, also explained that Azar’s nearly decade-long pharmaceutical experience would be an asset.

If confirmed, Azar would also be charged with enforcing the Affordable Care Act while Congress continues to debate a possible repeal and replace.

Azar has criticized the Affordable Care Act, multiple news sources reported. He said earlier in 2017 that the Affordable Care Act was a “fundamentally broken system,” according to the New York Times.

READ MORE: Prescription Drug Rates Remain Top Healthcare Supply Chain Issue

He also expected an Affordable Care Act repeal to occur in 2017, CNBC reported. He said, “There will be a piece of legislation passes this year that is called the repeal of Obamacare. I don't know what's going to be in the substance of it, but there will be a piece of legislation that says that.”

Since the nomination was announced on Monday, several healthcare stakeholders have welcomed Azar as the potential HHS Secretary.

“We are confident that his extensive background in business, healthcare and medicine distinguishes him as a uniquely qualified candidate for the vacancy,” stated Rick Pollack, President and CEO of American Hospital Association (AHA). “The expertise garnered from his career in the private sector and prior public service at HHS as Deputy Secretary will prove to be particularly valuable in addressing the serious challenges facing our nation's healthcare system today.”

The Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) also congratulated Azar.

“We welcome and support the nomination of Alex Azar for HHS Secretary,” the organization wrote. “His years of experience in government service and the healthcare sector makes him uniquely qualified to confront the challenges facing patients, families, and caregivers.”

“I have worked with Mr. Azar in the past and think he is the perfect pick for the times,” the FAH statement continued. “His steady hand of leadership will be critically important as the deliberations over health reform and the many health care quality and cost issues proceed.”

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