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Former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, is tipped to take over from former Secretary Tom Price after receiving the presidential nomination for the role. Azar previously served as general counsel to the HHS and Deputy Secretary during the George W. Bush administration.
President Trump confirmed on Twitter that he believes Azar is the man for the job, tweeting “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 position of Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services was vacated by former Secretary Tom Price in September, following revelations about his controversial use of military aircraft and expensive charter flights to travel around the country.
While there were several potential candidates tipped to receive the nomination, including commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, and administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, President Trump has made a controversial choice.
Alex Azar is a trained lawyer, but has spent the past ten years working in the pharmaceutical industry – an industry regulated by the HHS. In 2007, Azar joined pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly taking on the role of senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications before becoming the head of the U.S. division of the firm until January 2017, when he left to start up his own consulting firm.
The nomination of Azar has raised many eyebrows. While President Trump has tweeted that he sees Azar as the man to help lower drug prices, Eli Lilly has attracted considerable criticism in the past for hikes in drug prices, notably for price rises to Insulin, one of the firm’s major pharmaceutical products. President Trump has previously claimed the pharmaceutical industry is ‘getting away with murder’ setting prices for their products.
Democrats have already expressed skepticism about how Azar would be able to help lower healthcare costs, not sharing Trump’s optimistic view that Azar can help drive prices down.
Azar has also been a harsh critic of the Affordable Car Act, sharing President’s Trump’s view that the ACA should be repealed. Despite repeated attempts, the failure to repeal ACA will mean that if appointed, Azar will be responsible for overseeing enforcement of the ACA.
Before Azar can take the helm of the Department of Health and Human Services, he must first be approved by Congress. Azar’s record while serving in the pharmaceutical industry is certain to be scrutinized, as will his commitment to enforcing the Affordable Care Act that he has previously strongly opposed.