Senate Approves Azar as HHS Secretary
The Senate voted to confirm former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday. Six Democrats and Independent Sen. Angus King (I-ME) joined all but one Republican Senator in supporting Azar. As the nation’s top health official, Azar will oversee critical health programs like Medicaid and Medicare and take over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Azar’s confirmation gives HHS its first permanent leader since September, when former Secretary Tom Price resigned due to a scandal regarding his use of public funds for travel.
Prior to his nomination, Azar served as president of the pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, for ten years. He previously served for six years in the George W. Bush administration – first as HHS General Counsel for four years and then as HHS Deputy Secretary for two years, where he oversaw the Department’s regulatory process.
Appearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, Azar pledged to lower drug prices, increase affordable health care, reform Medicaid and tackle the opioid epidemic. However, some members of Congress have voiced concern that Azar’s background in the pharmaceutical industry will hinder his ability to reign in drug prices. Further, Azar’s past criticism of the Affordable Care Act and support for block granting Medicaid have raised concerns that he may work to undermine the ACA and Medicaid as HHS Secretary.