President Donald Trump has nominated Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, to become the next secretary of HHS. The position was vacant after Tom Price, MD, resigned in late September.
Azar’s name had been floated as a front-runner
for the position after FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, and Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin indicated they were satisfied with their current posts and did not want to leave them to lead HHS. Trump confirmed the rumors in a tweet during a trip to Asia.
Azar had been president of the US division of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly until this January. Before he joined Lilly in 2007, he had been a deputy secretary at HHS under the George W. Bush administration. He also has a legal background that includes working as a clerk to former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
As referenced in Trump’s tweet, a goal of his presidency has been to lower drug prices, as he had previously accused drug companies
of “getting away with murder.” He also convened a meeting
with Representatives from across the aisle to discuss this area of common ground. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, praised the president as “aware of the problem” and “enthusiastic” about solving it.
Considering Azar’s background, his Senate confirmation hearing for appointed to the post of HHS Secretary will likely include tough questions about drug pricing and his ability to regulate his former industry.
If confirmed, he will play a significant role in Trump’s ongoing efforts to dismantle and replace the Affordable Care Act. Azar has been a frequent critic of the law, but in a June interview with Bloomberg TV
said that “there are still changes that can be made to make it work a little better than it has been.”