By Dan Mangan
The Senate confirmed the nomination of former drug company executive Alex Azar as head of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday.
Azar’s long-expected approval as HHS secretary puts him in a charge of a department with a trillion-dollar budget that oversees the massive Medicare and Medicaid health coverage systems, drug regulatory bodies, disease-fighting agencies and the ever-controversial Obamacare health reform law.
The 50-year-old Azar is a veteran of HHS, having served for two years as deputy secretary and before that as general counsel of the department, both durbing the administration of President George W. Bush.
In 2017, the Yale Law grad ended a five-year stint as president of the U.S. division of pharmaceuticals giant Eli Lilly and Co.
Democratic senators during Azar’s recent confirmation hearings highlighted the price increases of Lily’s drugs while he was at the company, and given that history were skeptical of his claims to intend to fight rising drug costs as HHS chief.
Azar is the first person with a pharmaceutical industry background to lead the health agency.
And two former HHS chiefs under Bush, Tommy Thompson and Mike Leavitt, wrote in The Hill that Azar “has the necessary experience, skills, motivation and integrity” to run the department.
HHS had been without a secretary since September, when Trump’s original pick for the job, Dr. Tom Price, resigned amid controversy over his use of private and expensive charter jets for official travel.
Price’s departure came while Trump and his Republican allies in Congress were pushing legislation that sought to repeal and replace key parts of the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is formally known.
Those efforts failed, repeatedly, in the Senate. But the recently passed tax law did effectively eliminate, starting in 2019, the ACA requirement that most Americans have some form of Obamacare-compliant health coverage or pay a fine. Read more…