Trump picks former Eli Lilly exec Alex Azar to head HHS

The president has selected Alex Azar, a George W. Bush Administration alum, to kick-start Obamacare repeal, lower drug prices and further deregulation.
By Bill Siwicki
12:30 PM
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Former Eli Lilly exec Alex Azar previously served as HHS deputy secretary under President George W. Bush. Credit: YouTube

Former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar is President Donald Trump’s pick to become the next Secretary of Health and Human Services, replacing Tom Price, who resigned in disgrace over private and government plane travel that reportedly tallied $1 million in seven months.

Over the course of a decade, Azar worked his way up the ranks to become president of U.S. operations at Ely Lilly. He left the post earlier this year to become a healthcare consultant. Previously, during a six-year tenure in the George W. Bush Administration, he was HHS general counsel and deputy secretary. There he was known for being extremely competent and demanding, with great knowledge of bureaucracy and policy.

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“He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!” Trump tweeted of Azar.

That appears to be the Trump Administration’s hope for an agency in an area that has seen the administration’s biggest policy failure, the inability to repeal and replace Obamacare. Azar, if confirmed, would be tasked with picking up the repeal and replace effort, implementing deregulation, and lowering drug prices. These are goals that the administration, to date, generally has failed to achieve.

Giving a long-time pharmaceutical veteran responsibility for how the Affordable Care Act is managed moving forward likely will raise a few eyebrows given Trump’s outspoken criticism of drug companies and high drug costs.

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Still, when reports broke in October that Trump was considering Azar, conservatives including former HHS secretaries Mike Leavitt and Tommy Thompson lauded Azar’s track record and knowledge of healthcare.

In addition to supporting repealing and replacing Obamacare, Azar wants to convert Medicaid into block grants to the states.

Azar certainly has the conservative credentials to appeal to Republicans in the Senate. He clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and worked for special counsel Kenneth Starr to investigate President Bill Clinton’s Whitewater real estate investments.

Trump appears to be betting that Azar, with his considerable political and policy background, can return Obamacare repeal to the fore, this time successfully, and restore relations with Capitol Hill after a bruising Obamacare fight and the disgrace over the previous HHS secretary’s travel affairs.

Azar has ties to members of the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, HHS acting Secretary Eric Hargan and Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg. Pence was governor of Indiana when Azar was president of the Indiana-based Lilly USA. And Azar served in the Bush Administration with Bremberg and Hargan.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com