By Miriam Raftery
November 13, 2017 (Washington D.C.) — Alex Azar, a long-time pharmaceutical industry executive, has been appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Azar served as president of Eli Lilly & Co., a drug manufacturing company, and also served on the board of directors of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a pharmaceutical industry lobbying group.
During President George W. Bush’s administration, Azar also served as general counsel and deputy secretary at Health and Human Services, but continued working for Eli Lilly during his government tenure.
Although Trump tweeted that he views Azar as a “star for better healthcare and lower drug prices,” in fact Azar faced accusations of regularly hiking up drug prices during his tenure heading up Eli Lilly. Earlier this year, the company was sued I Massachusetts for allegedly colluding with other drug makers to jack up prices of insulin, the New York Times reported. Lilly also has been a leading opponent of legislation to improve transparency on drug pricing, according to CNN.
Azar has also been a harsh critic of the Affordable Care Act or ACA, also known as Obamacare.
Brad Woodhouse, director of the Protect Our Care Campaign, an Obamacare defense group, blasted Azar's selection, MSNBC reports.
"Mr. Azar, a drug industry lobbyist, has been a harsh critic of the ACA and has gone so far as to say that the law is 'circling the drain' despite evidence to the contrary,” Woodhouse says, adding, “In fact, the ACA is working despite President Trump and former HHS Secretary Tom Price's repeated efforts to repeal and sabotage it. Open enrollment is off to a strong start, plans remain affordable and every county in the country is covered."
But Susan DeVore, CEO of the Premier group of hospitals and healthcare providers, commended Azar’s nomination, Healthcare Informatics reports. DeVore said that Premier worked with Azar when he served in the Bush administration on the Hospital Quality Improvement Demonstration Project. She adds, “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. “
If Azar’s nomination is approved by the Senate, he would replace Tom Price, who stepped down as Health and Human Services secretary amid revelations that he used costly private planes and government jets instead of commercial air line service to conduct department business.