President Donald Trump could be on the verge of tapping Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical industry executive and George W. Bush administration official, as the next Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, according to media reports.
Politico reported on Oct. 17 that Azar is the top pick to replace Tom Price, M.D., as HHS Secretary, with one source noting that Trump has already signed off on it. Other candidates who emerged in recent weeks since the Price resignation included current Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, but neither are being considered anymore at this time, according Politico.
On Sept. 29, the White House released a statement confirming that Price offered his resignation following an investigation about his use of private jets for official business. Price was facing intense criticism regarding his work-related travel on private jets, with Politico reporting last month that his travel cost taxpayers nearly $1 million, or about $400,000 for private charters and $500,000 in military airplane costs. For most of those trips, inexpensive commercial flights were also available. As such, Price, a former Georgia Congressman and a Trump appointee, quickly fell out of favor with the president. Confirmed as HHS Secretary in February, Price only served that role for about seven months.
Meanwhile, Azar 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.”
He continues to say on that profile page that he “entered healthcare largely by accident.” After law school, he began to work for a Washington D.C.-based law firm, at which point he was active in the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000. When Bush won the presidency that year, Azar received a call from HHS to see if he wanted serve as the agency’s General Counsel. Following Bush’s first term, Azar was asked to stay at HHS, this time 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 today, 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.”