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Trump nominates Ex-Lilly exec for health secretary role

Published on: 16/11/17

Alex Azar is officially President Trump’s nominee for the position as head of the Health and Human Services (HHS) agency, in a decision that was already widely expected.

The position has so far been a poisoned chalice in the Trump administration, with Azar likely to replace former incumbent, Tom Price, who resigned after it was revealed he had spent $1 million on private travel using private jets and military aeroplanes.

Trump had previously been lining up Tom Marino to take over the role, only for an investigation to reveal that he had played a key role in bring through an act that weakened the DEA’s ability to stop unusually large shipments of opioid painkillers – a major revelation given the worsening opioid crisis wracking North America.

Azar will take control of the management of the Affordable Care Act, should he be confirmed by the Senate. Previously in his career, he has been strongly critical of the act and it is likely that he will be charged with finding a means of undermining the initiative begun under Obama’s administration.

Prior to being nominated for the role, he held the role of President of Lilly USA; however, he left the position at the beginning of the year, a decision that coincided with the appointment of another executive, Dave Ricks, as the CEO of the company.

He has previous experience working in the HHS, after holding a position there during the Bush administration. This prior knowledge should help him in what will undoubtedly be a challenging role, with the twin difficulties of trying to manage the opioid epidemic and following Trump’s obvious desire to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. As well as this, his appointment will face enormous scrutiny from both Democrats and from the press.

Trump’s promise that Azar would be responsible for lowering drug price sees the president continue his strong talk on lowering drug prices, though the talk has, so far, not revealed much direct action. As a former pharma executive that once had aspirations to be a CEO of a big pharma company, it remains open to question whether he is likely to be a major proponent of such measures.

On the other side of the coin, knowing the industry could see Azar squeeze value out of the system that would not be disruptive from an industry standpoint.

As an example of this working, Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s appointment as head of the FDA, faced initial criticism due to his pharmaceutical links but has, thus far, received strong bipartisan support for many of the changes he has brought to the agency.

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