Trump to tap ex-pharma executive Azar as USA health secretary

Deputy Secretary Alex M. Azar and Ireland's former Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney

Trump just nominated this Lebanese-American to join his cabinet

Republicans and Democrats took opposing stances to President Donald Trump officially appointing former Eli Lilly executive Alex Azar as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Alex Azar appears to clearly be an establishment choice with his past experience including serving as General Counsel for HHS before becoming the Deputy Secretary under President George W. Bush.

Azar has close political ties with Republican lawmakers and observers believe that during his time with Lilly (and Indiana-based company), he developed a relationship with Vice President Pence.

After graduating from Yale Law School, Azar, 50, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and then worked for then-independent counsel Ken Starr on the so-called Whitewater investigation that embroiled the Clinton administration.

"We need an HHS secretary who is willing to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and lower prescription drug prices", he said, "not one who has financially benefited from this greed".

Azar also drew praise from PhRMA, the largest pharmaceutical industry trade group and America's Health Insurance Plans, the key lobbyist for the insurer industry.

Azar is an attorney and a pharmaceutical industry veteran.

Trump, who is in the Philippines on a diplomatic trip, announced the nomination on Twitter by saying Azar would "be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices". Over the course of the past year, HHS has dramatically cut outreach and advertising funding for open enrollment under Obamacare, and President Trump ended cost-sharing subsidies to help fund insurance for low-income individuals.

Patient advocacy organization Public Citizen said Azar has made it clear he is opposed to measures "to restrain prescription companies' profiteering and limit improper marketing" and that he favors weaker safety approval standards.

"We're encouraged by the fact that Mr. Azar has experience creating the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, he was there at the inception of ONC", said Tom Leary, vice president for government relations at HIMSS.

Republicans were supportive with Senate health committee head Lamar Alexander of Tennessee describing Azar as a qualified, experienced nominee.

"President Trump has nominated in Mr. Azar someone who shares his misguided and factually flawed views on the Affordable Care Act", said Brad Woodhouse of Protect Our Care in a statement.

The U.S. Senate still has to hold a confirmation hearing to formalize Azar as Secretary.

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