President Donald Trump confirmed on Twitter this morning that Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical industry executive, is his nomination to be the next Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary.
Azar, if confirmed by the Senate, will replace Tom Price, M.D., who resigned on Sept. 29 following an investigation about his use of private jets for official business. In the days prior to his resignation, Price was facing intense criticism regarding his work-related travel on private jets, with Politico reporting that his travel cost taxpayers nearly $1 million, or about $400,000 for private charters and $500,000 in military airplane costs. Confirmed as HHS Secretary in February, Price only served that role for about seven months.
Azar previously served as president of Lilly USA, LLC, the largest affiliate of global biopharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company, from 2012 until 2017, a position he recently left to pursue other career opportunities. On his Yale Law School profile page, where he graduated from 27 years ago, Azar says his job was to “directly supervise our men's health, women's health, neuroscience, immunology, cardiology, and Alzheimer's sales teams, as well as our U.S. marketing function, our sales and marketing services organizations, and our negotiations with health insurance plans to give patients affordable access to our medicines.”
Azar also has experience working in the federal government. He served as HHS General Counsel in the George W. Bush administration, and following Bush’s first term, Azar was asked to stay at HHS, serving as Deputy Secretary of HHS, the number two official and chief operating officer of the department. He worked in that role until February 2007.
As a report in Politico’s Morning eHealth briefing noted last month, Azar “helped lay the foundation for establishing the department's health IT office,” according to an interview Politico did with David Brailer, M.D., Ph.D., the first head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). Brailer, per the report, called Azar “an unflinching supporter of health IT,” while also recalling that Azar felt that in the pre-HITECH days, “the government couldn't or shouldn't regulate EHRs’ (electronic health records) use into existence.”
In a statement, the Charlotte, N.C.-based Premier and its members commended the nomination of Azar. Susan DeVore, CEO, Premier, wrote, “Premier has worked with Mr. Azar when he served in the Bush administration on some of the early value-based payment models pioneered by that administration, including the Hospital Quality Improvement Demonstration project. We know from that work he understands the need to move away from the perverse incentives in the Medicare fee-for-service payment system and to do so in a fashion that incents high quality care. He also appreciates the need to have access to healthcare data and interoperability of health information systems. We are looking forward to working with Mr. Azar once confirmed.”