Alex Azar: Five Things to Know about President Trump’s HHS Secretary Pick
On Nov. 13, President Trump announced that he is nominating Alex Azar to be the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Azar has been nominated to replace former HHS Secretary Tom Price. In this change, Azar could soon be leading what some say will be the most politically charged of all the
federal departments, as the agency is just leaning into dozens of rules that could dramatically reshape health care in the U.S. To help understand what Azar could bring to the department, here are five things you should know about him:
- Azar is a former pharmaceutical executive.
Azar worked at Eli Lilly for 10 years, spending the latter half of his tenure as president of the company’s U.S. division, according to The New York Times. In this role, he oversaw men’s health, women’s health, neuroscience, immunology, cardiology and the Alzheimer’s sales teams. He left Eli Lilly in 2016 and has been working as a private consultant since January 2017.
- He’s previously worked in the HHS
Azar previously served the HHS as a general counsel and in 2005 was named deputy secretary. During this time, Azar dealt with issues arising across the HSS, including a sprawling department encompassing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more. His two biggest projects included helping with the Bush administration’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and rolling out the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. Azar was described as being the “forefront” of both efforts by Bob Wood, who served as a chief of staff to former HHS secretary Tommy Thompson.
The White House noted that the Senate confirmed him for both appointments by voice vote in its nomination announcement.
- Azar has a conservative political history.
After graduating from Yale Law School in 1991, Mr. Azar clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and later went on to work for Kenneth Star during the Clinton Whitewater investigation. He was “active” during Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and served as general counsel of HHS under Secretary Tommy Thompson during Bush’s first term and deputy secretary in his second term.
Regarding the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”), Azar is staunchly against it. In a May interview with Fox Business Network, Azar said “Obamacare” was “circling the drain” as part of a “fundamentally broken system.” He stated that people relying on marketplace plans would be in “a really tough spot” until Congress addresses repeal and replaces it with a new program.
- He’s “no nonsense” and not one to make trouble
Colleagues who have worked with Azar says he fits the lawyer stereotype – serious-minded and to the point. Tom Barker, who was Azar’s deputy in the general counsel’s office, describes Azar as “no nonsense.” In one story, he stated that lawyers from an outside firm were explaining the doctrine of preemption, but Azar cut them off and said, “I’m familiar with the doctrine of preemption.” He doesn’t like his time being wasted and dislikes feeling like he is being “talked down to” by others.
Furthermore, his colleagues described him as someone who is conservative in personal beliefs, but remains reserved in expressing them. He’s a good listener and doesn’t come across as someone trying to solely push a political agenda.
- Despite his pharmaceutical background, not much is known about his view on drug prices, according to NPR research.
Ben Wakana, executive director of advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs, told NPR that Azar’s intimate knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry could be an asset as the Trump administration works to reduce drug prices.
However, critics fear that Azar’s background makes him ill-suited to focus on more affordable medicines and that he’ll put his Big Pharma friends ahead of the needs of the people, as he could benefit personally from a lack of reduction in drug prices. For example, the prices of Eli Lily’s insulin drugs Humalog and Humulin have both risen about 225 percent since 2011, according to the investment research firm Bernstein.