Trump names former drug exec as new health secretary

Alex Azar | MGN Online

President Donald Trump has nominated Alex Azar to be the next Health and Human Services secretary.

Posted: Nov 13, 2017 9:52 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Turning to an industry he's rebuked, President Donald Trump on Monday picked a former top pharmaceutical and government executive be his health and human services secretary, overseeing a $1 trillion department responsible for major health insurance programs, medical research, food and drug safety, and public health.

The nomination of Alex Azar is unusual because HHS secretaries have tended to come from the ranks of elected officials such as governors, leaders in academia, or top executive branch managers — not industries regulated by the department.

"He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!" Trump tweeted in announcing the nomination Monday morning.

Azar, 50, a lawyer by training, has spent most of the last 10 years with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, rising to president of its key U.S. affiliate before leaving in January to start his own consulting firm. He's seen as an expert on government health care regulation.

As HHS secretary, Azar would have to scrupulously avoid conflicts with Lilly's far-reaching interests, from drug approval to Medicare reimbursement. The drugmaker has drawn criticism from patient advocacy groups for price increases to one of its biggest products: insulin.

Americans consistently rank the high cost of prescription drugs as one of their top health care priorities, putting it ahead of divisive issues like repealing "Obamacare" in public opinion polls.

Trump has been a sharp critic of the industry. "The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder," the president said at a Cabinet meeting this fall. Prices are "out of control" and "have gone through the roof," Trump said.

In the spring, a Trump tweet sent drug stocks tumbling after the president said he was working on a new system that would foster competition and lead to much lower prices. In meetings with industry executives, however, Trump has focused on speeding up drug approvals, a cost-reducing tactic they would back.

Professionally, Azar has another set of skills that may be valuable to the president.

As a top HHS official during the George W. Bush administration, the Yale law graduate developed an insider's familiarity with the complex world of federal health care regulation, serving first as the department's chief lawyer and later as deputy secretary.

Frustrated by fruitless efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act in Congress, Trump might see the regulatory route as his best chance to make a mark on health care.

Congressional Democrats are likely to pounce on Azar's drug ties, reminding Trump of his promise to "drain the swamp" of Washington influence peddling.

Azar admirers say his industry experience should be considered an asset, not a liability.

"To the extent that the Trump administration has talked about lowering drug prices, here's a guy who understands how it works," said Tevi Troy, who served with Azar in the Bush administration and now leads the American Health Policy Institute, a think tank focused on employer health insurance.

"Would (Azar) have been better off if he had been meditating in an ashram after serving as deputy secretary?" asked Troy.

Azar spent his formative years in Maryland. He got his bachelor's degree in government and economics from another Ivy League institution, Dartmouth. He once clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a revered figure for conservatives. During the Bill Clinton years, he served a stint with independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

If confirmed, Azar would be Trump's second HHS secretary, replacing former Georgia congressman Tom Price, who stepped down after just seven months, when his use of private charter planes for government travel created a public controversy that displeased the president.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 13731

Reported Deaths: 652
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds89824
Lauderdale68056
Madison65321
Scott59210
Neshoba51431
Jones49215
Forrest48635
DeSoto4746
Leake38810
Holmes36923
Rankin3566
Jackson29613
Copiah2844
Attala27314
Monroe24624
Lincoln24520
Leflore24126
Harrison2376
Newton2273
Lamar2205
Yazoo2192
Pearl River20527
Pike20011
Adams18815
Noxubee1656
Lowndes1647
Warren1547
Washington1535
Jasper1453
Bolivar14111
Oktibbeha13910
Covington1311
Clarke13116
Smith13110
Kemper12710
Chickasaw12712
Wayne1250
Lafayette1243
Carroll11310
Marion1108
Lee1085
Coahoma1063
Clay993
Winston981
Lawrence941
Hancock8811
Itawamba857
Simpson850
Wilkinson849
Yalobusha845
Montgomery801
Sunflower793
Grenada752
Union725
Marshall713
Jefferson Davis712
Tippah7011
Panola622
Calhoun604
Tate591
Claiborne582
Humphreys537
Amite521
Walthall490
Perry492
Tunica483
Jefferson400
Prentiss393
Choctaw322
Stone300
Webster281
Pontotoc263
Franklin252
Tishomingo250
Quitman240
Tallahatchie241
George201
Benton150
Alcorn141
Greene71
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 15650

Reported Deaths: 580
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2033111
Jefferson163091
Montgomery127433
Marshall6509
Tuscaloosa55812
Lee51032
Franklin4676
Shelby44719
Tallapoosa40063
Butler35912
Chambers33724
Madison3024
Baldwin2749
Elmore2707
Walker2391
Etowah23811
DeKalb2263
Dallas2063
Coffee2061
Lowndes19310
Sumter1936
Morgan1761
Houston1724
Autauga1683
Calhoun1463
Pike1450
Choctaw1444
Colbert1422
Marengo1416
Russell1370
Lauderdale1352
Bullock1333
Hale1324
Randolph1247
Wilcox1187
Marion11410
Barbour1131
Clarke1092
St. Clair1041
Pickens934
Greene914
Talladega912
Chilton871
Dale850
Cullman780
Limestone770
Jackson712
Winston670
Covington671
Washington655
Henry642
Macon622
Crenshaw602
Bibb591
Blount491
Lawrence430
Escambia433
Perry350
Geneva350
Coosa341
Monroe332
Cherokee332
Conecuh281
Clay272
Lamar200
Cleburne131
Fayette110
Unassigned00
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