Trump to nominate 'star' to lead HHS

EVAN VUCCI  AP

EVAN VUCCI AP

Azar, who served as the head of Eli Lilly's USA operations for five years until he stepped down from the position in January, previously served as deputy secretary of HHS under the George W. Bush administration.

President Donald Trump on Monday said he is nominating former pharmaceutical executive and industry lobbyist Alex Azar to serve as US Health and Human Services secretary, saying Azar would push to lower the price of medicines.

Marilyn Tavenner, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, said Azar has the "experience and expertise to combine the best from the private sector with the best of our public programs to make healthcare work for every American".

Prior to that, he served as the company's vice president from 2009 to 2011.

Azar's grandfather immigrated from Lebanon 100 years ago.

If the new HHS head is confirmed, he would take the seat of Tom Price, who had to step down in September in the midst of a scandal regarding his government-funded private charter flights for official and personal business. "If he wants to take meaningful action to lower drug prices, we want to help him".

Azar, though a spokesman, declined to comment.

But Azar's own track record with drug prices is giving Democrats fodder to attack the choice.

Republicans were supportive with Senate health committee head Lamar Alexander of Tennessee describing Azar as a qualified, experienced nominee.

Currently, Azar is the chairman and founder of Seraphim Strategies, which provides strategic consulting and counsel on biopharmaceutical and health insurance industries.

Patient advocacy organization Public Citizen said Azar has made it clear he is opposed to measures "to restrain prescription companies' profiteering and limit improper marketing" and that he favors weaker safety approval standards.

Azar worked as HHS deputy secretary from 2005 to 2007 under President George W. Bush.

As secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Azar would oversee health agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates pharmaceutical companies and medical devices, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which pay for prescription drugs.

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