/ November 13, 2017
President Trump has selected Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive and a top health official during the George W. Bush administration, to lead the Health and Human Services Department.
The decision to enlist the 50-year-old Azar — who served as president of Lilly USA, the biggest affiliate of Eli Lilly and Co., before stepping down in January to work as a health-care consultant — represents a pragmatic pick. An establishment figure with a reputation as a conservative thinker and methodical lawyer, Azar would be expected to use his experience as HHS general counsel and deputy secretary to pursue Trump’s goals through executive action.
In announcing the nomination Monday morning, Trump tweeted that Azar “will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!” He has a close rapport with the department’s top political appointees as well as Vice President Pence.
Azar has been highly critical of the Affordable Care Act, telling Fox Business in May that the law was “certainly circling the drain” and saying in a speech two months ago that many of its problems “were entirely predictable as a matter of economic and individual behavior.”
In a June interview on Bloomberg Television, Azar made it clear he thought the administration could shift the ACA in a more conservative direction even if congressional Republicans failed to repeal much of it. “I’m not one to say many good things about Obamacare, but one of the nice things in it is it does give tremendous amount of authority to the secretary of HHS,” he said.
He also supports converting Medicaid from an entitlement program covering everyone who is eligible into block grants, a long-standing GOP goal that has sparked opposition from Democrats as well as some centrist Republicans. He has opposed expanding the program under the ACA to people with slightly higher incomes.
The nominee boasts sterling conservative credentials, clerking for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia before working under special counsel Kenneth Starr to investigate Bill Clinton’s failed Whitewater real estate investments. Still, administration officials think he could work more deftly with competing health-care interests and politicians than his predecessor, Tom Price.