Trump Taps Former Drug Industry Exec to Head HHS

November 13, 2017

Daniel S. Levine

President Donald Trump said he would nominate Alex Azar, an attorney and former drug industry executive who served in the Bush Administration, to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Azar previously held the position of president of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations. He also served as general counsel and later deputy secretary of H.H.S under the George W. Bush administration. If confirmed, he would replace Tom Price, who resigned after a scandal over his lavish spending on private jets for his travel on government business.

In announcing his selection, President Trump tweeted that Azar “will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!”

Azar has been a critic of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark healthcare legislation that the Trump administration has sought unsuccessfully to repeal. In an interview with Bloomberg Television this summer he said, “I’m not one to say many good things about Obamacare, but one of the nice things in it is it does give a tremendous amount of authority to the secretary of HHS.”

Key Republicans praised the selection. “The leader of H.H.S. 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,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told The New York Times. “Mr. Azar has the experience, knowledge, and fortitude to take on these daunting challenges.”

Azar’s selection also won quick praise from some within the rare disease community.

“Alex Azar brings superior credentials for this job, based on his extensive management experiences and deep understanding of our healthcare system,” said Peter Saltonstall, president and CEO of the National Organization for Rare Disorders. “He understands the needs of the patient community and particularly the challenges of the rare disease community and the urgency of orphan drug development.”

Others, though, were quick to criticize the pick because of Azar’s past as a drug industry executive and say it signals that despite the President’s sharp criticism of drug industry pricing, he is not serious about crafting reforms. During Azar’s time at Lilly, they note, insulin prices tripled, and say his past public statements indicate he is against measures to restrain pricing.

“The swamp only gets worse. Tom Price supported Big Pharma in the U.S. Congress,” the consumer group Public Citizen said in a statement in response to Azar’s selection. “Now apparently Trump has decided to cut out the middleman and let a pharmaceutical executive literally run the federal department that protects the health of all Americans.”

November 13, 2017

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