Alex Azar confirmed as HHS Secretary


Alex M. Azar II has been confirmed as secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services following a Jan. 24 vote in the U.S. Senate.

His nomination passed by a vote of 55-43.

Mr. Azar has previously been confirmed to two posts at HHS, first as general counsel and later as deputy HHS secretary during the administration of President George W. Bush between 2001 and 2007. Both appointments were confirmed by unanimous consent in the Senate.

Alex M. Azar II Wikimedia Commons/WWsgConnect/CC-SA 4.0

Alex M. Azar II

Most recently, Mr. Azar served as president of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations from 2012 to 2017 after joining the company in 2007. His drug industry ties have raised concerns that the agency’s regulatory actions would favor pharmaceutical manufacturers at the expense of patients. However, at his confirmation hearing, Mr. Azar noted that he would be willing to investigate government drug price negotiations for Medicare Part B drugs.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee challenged Mr. Azar on drug prices and other issues, but their objections to his pharmaceutical industry past were not enough to stop his confirmation.

“Mr. Azar was part of this broken system [of high drug pricing], and despite the cheerful overtures that he has made to senators on the other side of the aisle over the last few weeks on how he wants to work on the issue, he has not given a single concrete example of how he would actually change the system, change the system that he said is broken,” Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said on the Senate floor. “He won’t give us an example of how he would change it to make it better.”

In a statement, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said that Mr. Azar “has the broad perspective necessary to address the opioid crisis.”

However, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) expressed concern about whether he could effectively address the opioid epidemic.

“I was disappointed that Mr. Azar would not commit to advocating for new funding during his confirmation hearing. Considering his tenure as a top executive at a major pharmaceutical company, I also continue to have serious doubts that Mr. Azar can be a leader in addressing the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs,” she said.

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