Trump taps drug ex­ec­u­tive as health sec­re­tary

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION & WORLD - By Anna Edne and Jared S. Hop­kins

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump named for­mer Eli Lilly ex­ec­u­tive Alex Azar to lead the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices af­ter agency’s past chief re­signed amid blow­back over his tax­payer­funded pri­vate jet travel.

“Happy to an­nounce, I am nom­i­nat­ing Alex Azar to be the next HHS Sec­re­tary. He will be a star for bet­ter health­care and lower drug prices!” Trump tweeted Mon­day.

If con­firmed, Azar will take over the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s man­age­ment of the Af­ford­able Care Act — also called “Oba­macare.” Trump and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have called to re­peal the health law, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken steps to desta­bi­lize it, such as cut­ting fund­ing for some pro­grams and re­fus­ing to pay sub­si­dies to health in­sur­ers.

Trump has been highly crit­i­cal of the drug in­dus­try, say­ing that phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies are “get­ting away with mur­der” and threat­en­ing to use the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s buy­ing power to bring down drug prices.

Be­fore his time at Lilly, Azar served as deputy sec­re­tary at HHS under Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. Azar, who ran In­di­anapolis­based Lilly’s U.S. op­er­a­tions un­til ear­lier this year, has been an ad­vo­cate for more state flex­i­bil­ity under Oba­macare.

That matches up with what Repub­li­cans have pushed for, such as in a seem­ingly stalled bi­par­ti­san bill to fund in­surer sub­si­dies that help lower-in­come peo­ple with health costs.

As sec­re­tary, Azar would have broad au­thor­ity over the pro­gram. “I’m not one to say many good things about Oba­macare, but one of the nice things in it is it does give a tremen­dous amount au­thor­ity to the sec­re­tary,” Azar said dur­ing an in­ter­view with Bloomberg TV in June. “There are still changes that can be made to make it work a lit­tle bet­ter than it has been.”

Trump’s first HHS sec­re­tary, Tom Price, re­signed in Septem­ber af­ter his ex­ten­sive use of pri­vate and mil­i­tary jets at tax­payer ex­pense was re­vealed. Azar must be ap­proved by the Se­nate.

Sen. Or­rin Hatch, who heads the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mitte, called on Trump’s pick to help “right the wrongs of this deeply flawed law.”

Alex Azar

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