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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.

Cases: 253932

Reported Deaths: 5524
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17120175
Hinds16207322
Harrison13353193
Rankin10689211
Jackson10303183
Lee8796141
Madison8232162
Jones6288110
Forrest5949119
Lauderdale5847180
Lowndes5355116
Lafayette494292
Lamar484165
Washington4777123
Bolivar3966108
Oktibbeha392480
Panola368378
Pontotoc362853
Monroe3533105
Warren348498
Union343060
Marshall341665
Neshoba3370152
Pearl River327899
Leflore3002105
Lincoln297085
Sunflower282669
Tate270862
Hancock266559
Alcorn263253
Itawamba262459
Pike262077
Scott246245
Prentiss245052
Yazoo244355
Copiah240849
Tippah240450
Simpson234867
Leake230564
Coahoma230054
Grenada217770
Covington211371
Marion210672
Adams204670
Winston200164
Wayne199630
George199038
Attala193559
Newton191342
Tishomingo184459
Chickasaw183644
Jasper169735
Holmes168567
Clay159033
Stone142320
Tallahatchie140134
Clarke138660
Calhoun135721
Smith120123
Yalobusha116534
Walthall111836
Noxubee110322
Greene109729
Montgomery109434
Carroll104221
Lawrence102417
Perry101631
Amite97725
Webster92224
Tunica86321
Claiborne86125
Jefferson Davis84125
Humphreys82924
Benton81523
Kemper77120
Quitman6888
Franklin66415
Choctaw60313
Wilkinson58325
Jefferson53819
Sharkey42717
Issaquena1596
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 422598

Reported Deaths: 6120
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62039921
Mobile30225548
Madison27052186
Tuscaloosa20728267
Montgomery18978305
Shelby18504114
Baldwin16251182
Lee12465101
Morgan12233113
Etowah11735168
Calhoun11122200
Marshall10191107
Houston8598148
Cullman8023105
Limestone800274
Elmore7836101
DeKalb768397
Lauderdale754683
St. Clair7535120
Talladega6166108
Walker5897174
Jackson580341
Colbert532073
Blount530483
Autauga518455
Coffee441056
Dale396181
Franklin366248
Chilton336165
Russell330310
Covington327268
Escambia316842
Dallas303196
Chambers282769
Clarke281433
Tallapoosa2616107
Pike248729
Marion245650
Lawrence243647
Winston226635
Bibb215147
Geneva201435
Marengo199029
Pickens196531
Hale175842
Barbour172936
Butler169658
Fayette168226
Cherokee160330
Henry153621
Monroe145217
Randolph139835
Washington137626
Clay126145
Crenshaw118744
Lamar118019
Cleburne117423
Macon114735
Lowndes110335
Wilcox103121
Bullock99028
Perry97419
Conecuh94420
Sumter89026
Greene76023
Coosa60515
Choctaw51224
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